David Cameron recently caused a stir by pledging to give a third of the jobs in his first government to women. Critics have pointed out the potential for talented men to be denied jobs while less-able women would be promoted ahead of them. Ann Widdecombe said she would have been 'grossly insulted' to be promoted on such grounds, implying that jobs should be allocated on merit alone.
I wonder what they make of the new law in Norway that requires companies to appoint women to 40% of their non-executive board directorships. In 2002, only 7.1% of non-executive directors in Norway were female. The government introduced the 40% quota as a voluntary measure initially, but when that didn’t bring sufficient change quickly enough they made it compulsory. The twelve ASAs - publicly-listed companies over a certain size - who had not complied by the February deadline now face being dissolved unless they appoint women to their boards.
Catalyst, a New York thinktank, has published a list of the barriers that stop women getting to board level. Top of the list is women’s lack of management experience, closely followed by women’s exclusion from informal networks; stereotypes about women’s abilities; a lack of role models; a failure of male leadership; family responsibilities, and naivety when it comes to company politics. So, Ann Widdecombe, maybe it’s more difficult than you think for appointments to be made on merit alone!
There’s a fascinating article in the Guardian about the situation in Norway, including examples of inspiring and enterprising women who have helped to bring about change. I love the story of Marit Hoel, the founder of the Oslo-based Centre for Corporate Diversity, which helps companies find experienced non-executive female directors. In response to the growing criticism that there weren’t enough talented and experienced women around, she called a press conference where she said nothing. She just showed photos of 100 senior, capable, talented women with summaries of their CVs. She said, ‘The pictures said it all. Experienced women are out there in quantity. The problem, as elsewhere, is that they are literally not seen. Men have their own network.’ Similar thoughts inspired the Sophia Network. Read the article here to get the full story.
Quotas are controversial and a subject for impassioned debate, but at least they try and overcome some of the barriers to women in leadership identified above. Should we have them in youth organisations and in the church? Is there a better way of trying to redress the balance? Let us know what you think!