This is a guest blog from Elena Shishkina, chief financial officer at SAP UKI, who discusses the much debated EU boardroom quotas, and what else needs to be done to achieve gender equality
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During the last week, I’ve been trying to keep up with the saga surrounding the European Commission’s plans to force mandatory quotas for women in the boardroom.
The proposals, delivered this month to force listed companies across Europe to ensure that 40% of non-executive board seats are occupied by women, were certainly a bold move. And clearly, given the British response, they were a step too far. Britain spearheaded the opposition, assembling a blocking minority with eight other countries who strongly criticised plans for the legislation.
The whole issue got me thinking about the wider topic of gender equality in the boardroom, and in the technology industry specifically. According to the EU proposals, at present, women make up a mere 14% of board seats – something which must be rectified. There is agreement across the UK that such a disparity between men and women in business must be combated, but we’re yet to find one clear strategy to get there.
Clearly, gender legislation is vitally important to equal opportunities, creating cracks in the glass ceiling preventing women from reaching the top. However, in this instance, I found myself asking: should businesses really be forced to choose a woman over a man for the board, just so they fulfil a quota?
Surely, the whole basis of equal rights is that reward and progress should be a result of merit, and finding the right man – or woman – for the job.
Legislation is undoubtedly crucial, but I feel that there is a much wider challenge which needs to be addressed. We need to start at the root of the problem, which means engaging women at a young age in historically ‘male’ careers, such as technology and finance.
There are so many opportunities in these industries, something which I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing firsthand, and I feel strongly that the battle should be focussed on changing perceptions and dispelling myths around women in business (as well as legislative efforts).
Fortunately, there are already some great initiatives out there which aim to do just this. The UKRC and WISE, offer services to help businesses and organisations ensure gender equality and diversity in science, engineering and technology, whilst STEMNET holds events tailored to encouraging young women to pursue careers in these industries.
However, there is still work to be done. According to recent research conducted by the UKRC men in the UK are six times more likely than women to work in science, technology, engineering or maths. With such great prospects out there for both men and women in these areas, I really hope to see an improvement on the statistics in the coming years. We need to see more women going into these careers, and I truly believe heightened engagement and raised awareness are vital in making this happen.
Of course I agree with the reasoning and the desired outcome behind the EU quotas. We do need more women in the boardroom, particularly in technology and finance. But, are strict quotas the right way to go about it? I’m not so sure. We need to engage women and equip them with the right skills, drive and passion for the industry so they can rival their male counterparts based on merit, and merit alone.