Is there an alternative to female quotas for management boards?

In my role at Women in Technology, I often get asked about whether or not I’m in favour of quotas. Should companies be made to appoint a certain number of women to their boards in order to break the glass ceiling?

I always answer that it goes without saying that women want equality in the workplace. However, the majority of women want to get ahead in their jobs because they deserve it – not because of their gender.

It’s a fantastic achievement to be promoted thanks to your hard work, ability and success. But to be promoted to board level just because a certain number of female places need to be filled would make most women women feel insulted, rather than elated. In short, we want to be promoted on our own merits. So can the government and the business world do more to make this happen?

One option is to introduce targets, as opposed to quotas. These targets would highlight a lack of diversity at board level and encourage organisations to boost gender equality. By putting the lack of women at board level in the spotlight, the issue would become unavoidable and businesses would have to tackle their diversity issues head on.

The introduction of long-term targets could also push companies to invest more in developing female talent from the beginning of their career. This would surely be more productive than training women as a last-minute measure if short-term targets were to be introduced.

People must also understand that increasing diversity is not an altruistic act. More must be made of the business case for diversity. Many studies have shown that having more women at board level has a positive effect on the bottom line and encourages wider thinking and ideas. This benefits the business as a whole, not just the women within it. This attitude needs to be ingrained in all levels of management who must understand the benefits of a diverse team.

Good female talent can be difficult to find, especially at senior level, so it’s also important that employers mentor and support future female leaders in their organisations. For example, Cass Business School in London has opened a new organisation called the “30% Club”.
The club, a group of chairmen and organisations committed to bringing more women onto UK corporate boards, will pledge to open boardroom doors to the many qualified women who have been locked out for decades.

This comes after the government recently commissioned a report from Sir Mervyn Davies, calling for at least a 25% of FTSE 100 boards to be made up of women by 2015. The 30% Club aims to exceed Davies’s target on a voluntary basis, without the need for the controversial quota that many women reject.

This initiative is perhaps the most encouraging to date. While many are waiting for the government to impose targets, or for businesses to do so of their own accord, the 30% Club argues that “business culture will change only through action, not just words or good intentions.”

The club’s main goal is to motivate and support chairmen in appointing more women to their boards. This will be achieved through providing guidance and information for businesses trying to increase their diversity and for women seeking board appointments. The Club also aims to put the issue of gender equality in the workplace at the top of the political agenda – without calling for a quota.

The more that initiatives like this encourage businesses to train women for the board room from the beginning of their careers, the more women can develop to their true potential. Without an imposed quota in sight, and with the right training and investment, women can rise to the top of their businesses based on their own merit – and not their gender.

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