Today in the Observer, there is an excellent article by Barbara Ellen on the report by Lord Davies which recommends that UK listed companies in the FTSE 100 should be aiming for a minimum of 25 per cent female board member representation by 2015.
All at once, there is a flurry of dissent, even from women, opposing the concept of 'tokenism'.
So, in this blog post, I consider tokenism.
There is nothing wrong with tokenism, when we consider the context. The context is a history of men dominating boards; men shutting out women. It would be naive to assume that just because rules have changed and women are allowed to be on boards, women will flock there in equal numbers. It's a huge cultural shift - women are fighting against external expectations, discrimination and judgements (often subconscious), their internal expectations (women are brought up to be more 'passive' and give way to men) and practicalities - the childcare issue. As Lord Davies's report states, at the current rate of change it will take over 70 years to achieve gender-balanced boardrooms in the UK. This is how long a cultural shift will take, because all these barriers need to dissolve. Very difficult. To accelerate it, we need to give women a boost, and this is what the new targets (and quotas, in other countries) aim to achieve.
Why is it beneficial to have a gender balance? Lord Davies sets out the reasons in the report - more diversity, better representation of people and a better democracy. It's the same argument for better representation in Parliament (only 22% are women); without the diversity, decisions made are small-minded and do not consider the needs and rights of the population as a whole.
Back to boards, I have heard the argument that if companies saw an economic benefit in recruiting more women to their boards, they would do it. It's not so simple. It's difficult to change the status quo; to start a cultural shift and to push against habit. This is human nature. There's resistance to any kind of change. Same applies to ethnic minority groups and people of different class. It's just not what what the companies are used to, so they resist it. So I welcome external targets on companies. I think it is the only intervention that will work - not only make the companies' performance better, but improve society as a whole and ensure that everyone, truly, has equal rights and opportunities.
A final note on tokenism:
Just because a woman is on a board when the targets or quotas are in place, it doesn't mean she is any less good than the men, or that she got there purely because of tokenism. For this to be the case, there has to be an assumption that the the women who are on the boards now (a very small proportion) accurately represent the proportion of 'high-calibre' women lower down in the company and in society in general. Likewise, there has to be an assumption that the high proportion of men accurately represents the proportion of 'high-calibre' men. But we know this is not true - there is no scientific consensus that men are better leaders or more intelligent than women.
So the explanation for the disparity must be due to other factors - highlighted in bold text above. If we could somehow knock these barriers down, the pool of high-calibre women would be freer to rise to the top. Having a quota or target forces companies and individuals (men and women) to think in a different way, therefore starts the process of knocking down the barriers and changing the culture and habit. Women suddenly have role models and men get used to having women around, being the bosses.
The talent and capability among women has always been there and always will be. It is society's barriers that stop them reaching the top.
27 February 2011
21 February 2011
13 February 2011
08 February 2011
Scroll to my questions (in bold) to Manoj below...
Source: Evening Standard 18 Jan 2011, shortly after Clegg's announcement of his intention to extend paternity leave.
Manoj talks about work and childcare and says:
"I think my wife would have got sick of me being around the house if I'd had any more time off. And after two weeks I was really missing work."
What about his wife? Does she have an opinion?
"My wife worked in banking but since our son was born...she has been a housewife and hasn't worked now for three years."
And...does his wife mind?
"I couldn't imagine not working for months on end. I would be afraid of losing skills and the firm racing on ahead without me."
And...his wife? What about her firm and her career?
"I work in a very male-dominated environment and among my colleagues it's the wives who stay at home and look after the children."
Do the wives have any say? Any say at all?
02 February 2011
My last blog sparked a stream of comments on Facebook.
Picking up on the boys-and-textiles point, a friend of mine went to see a kidney transplant operation; she said the (male) surgeon had better needle-working skills than any textiles needleworker.
So boys will do it if it's in a different context, that's to say, one that is accepted in society as conforming with gender norms.
There are many more men than women at the top of the surgeon profession. Which makes a mockery of the myth that girls and women are more suited to sewing.
01 February 2011
In his first school, somewhere away from London (it doesn’t matter where), very few boys chose to take textiles and cooking classes, compared with other subjects. The girls took textiles and cooking in much higher numbers.
He moved to an area in north London where there is a large Asian population, and cooking is an important part of the culture at home. There, an equal number of boys as girls chose cooking classes, but they didn’t choose textiles. This is despite a campaign run by the school which depicted men as role models in the textile industry.
This anecdote is consistent with the hypothesis that boys and girls are conditioned at a very young age about what is ‘right’ for their gender, and this is heavily influenced by cultural norms and values.