Female executives in the US would benefit from a voluntary code of practice like the one that resulted from the UK's Lord Davies review into women on boards, according to Lisa Hook, president and CEO of Neustar.
Hook, who is also a senior independent director for Reed Elsevier, Reed Elsevier NV and RELX Group, made the remark during a presentation at Heidrick & Struggles’ The Board Network in London this week.
Hook pointed out that retail industries in the US have managed to change the dial on gender in previously male-dominated boardrooms, but the defence, aerospace and technology sectors remain male-dominated.
“The UK has made far more progress than the US when it comes to addressing gender bias at the highest levels of the corporation,” said Hook.
“Here you see plenty of evidence of commitment at the corporate level, whereas in my experience, stateside it’s often not even on the agenda.”
Lord Davies published a report for the government in 2011 recommending that the boards of UK FTSE 100 companies should comprise a minimum of 25% women. He also suggested that all companies should set targets to ensure more women at board level.
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When asked about the UK government’s target of 25% female boards at FTSE companies, she said: “Good companies are already motivated to find quality people, regardless of race or gender.
“The risk with quotas is that some companies might react to fill them with whoever is available. This can actually end up reinforcing negative stereotypes, negating the entire point of the initiative.”
Launched last year, The Board Network aims to bring together female board directors from a range of commercial businesses and social enterprises.
Jenni Hibbert, partner at Heidrick & Struggles’ Board Practice, said: “The Board Network was set up to promote exactly this kind of critical assessment and insight.
“By sharing experiences like these, from a wide range of industries with board peers, Lisa Hook is helping to promote the kind of board diversity and diversity of thought that will ultimately produce better commercial governance.”
Alexa Bailey, manager of Heidrick & Struggles’ Board Practice, said: “Diversity of ‘thinking styles’ ensures that diversity in all its forms flourishes in the boardroom.
“The UK has a buoyant technology and creative industry and many boards understand that diversity is not just a gender issue, but a broader business imperative. This is why we have embedded The Board Network into our firm’s global Board Practice to ensure we are thinking differently about board profiles and the pipeline of board talent.”
Hook added: “My parents always told me I could do anything, but you have to keep challenging yourself.
“You also have to have a certain amount of blindness to bias. It’s just there, and while you have to make sure you demand your fair due, you can’t make every fight your own. Focus on it too strongly and you’ll end up going down the wrong path.
“The bottom line is that getting to the top as a woman takes grit and determination – just like it does for men. The good news is that, while getting your first board position is hard, it gets easier after that.”