Britain’s top CEOS: antediluvian attitudes?
“Why can’t a woman be more like a man? Men are so honest, so thoroughly square; Eternally noble, historic’ly fair; Who, when you win, will always give your back a pat. Well, why can’t a woman be more like that?” That was Henry Higgins’s take on the gender divide more than a century ago and, according to a damning new report, it’s a perspective shared by many business leaders today, said Judith Woods in The Daily Telegraph. When researchers working for the government-backed Hampton-alexander Review challenged the CEOS of FTSE 350 companies to explain why there are still so few women on their boards, they were given a range of astonishing excuses, which can be summarised thus: “Women are irrational, that’s all there is to that! Heads full of cotton, hay and rags!”
Do you secretly suspect that women, with their feeble lady brains, simply aren’t up to running a business? Well, it turns out you’re not alone, said Eliza Cummings-cove in The Independent. In explaining the paucity of women on his board, one CEO noted that it tackles “extremely complex” issues. Another worried that women would not “fit comfortably into the board environment”. Indeed they may not fit, given the inflated male egos already squashed around the table. Apparently, “most women don’t want the hassle or pressure of sitting on a board”, which is a pathetic excuse for not even trying to accommodate them. There was “we have one woman already on the board, so we are done” (yes, they’re really embracing diversity), and “I can’t just appoint a woman because I want to” (oh yes you can). It seems that, for the leaders of our most powerful businesses, promoting women is “a bit of a pain, a lot of effort and an unwanted disruption to the old boys’ club”.
It is “jaw-dropping” that in 2018 executives should hold such views, said Daniel Thomas in the FT, “let alone submit them to an official review”. But progress has in fact been made since the Government began pushing for more women on boards: in the six years to 2017, the number doubled in the FTSE 350. However, the pace is likely to be slowing, because the biggest firms, with public reputations to defend, were always going to be quick to change – and there’s still a lot of work to do: almost 100 firms in the FTSE 250 have only one woman on the board, or none. In this respect, one boss’s excuse merits scrutiny: his shareholders don’t care about women on the board, he said, so why should he? Well, shareholders should care, not least because the “economic arguments for diverse boards are well documented”. The time for platitudes is over: owners must take action and vote against the chairmen who fail to promote women.