There was a notable piece in the news a couple of week ago that seems to pass by without much comment but which I think is very significant.
The US military have abolished all considerations of gender in all phases of their operations so that women will now be able to play a full role in all aspects of the military including that macho alpha male enclave, the United States Marine Corps.
It is a move that has been coming for some time but it is dramatic nevertheless. It seems to me that if the US military is prepared to make this decision, the question to ask is why do so few businesses remove the glass ceiling and promote more women into senior positions?
That is a generalisation and in fact the situation has improved vastly in just a few years. There is some interesting research that has been carried out by the FTSE that shows this improvement.
For example in 2001 Lord Davies produced a review that set a target by 2015 whereby there would be 25% of board representation by women on FTSE company boards.
In fact the target has been almost achieved and all-male boards of FTSE companies no longer exist and that is a great success. With the current level at 23.5% Cranfield University expects the target to be achieved during the year and that means only another 17 women to be appointed to FTSE boards.
The FTSE 250 companies have made even more progress with women’s representation more than doubling from under 8% in 2011 to over 18% at the latest count. Moreover the number of all-male boards has reduced from 151 to 23 today, still far too high but trending downwards.
In the very male atmosphere of the construction industry there has been a patchy response. The larger companies have taken the matter seriously and there are more women taking active roles in the industry.
Smaller companies have yet to take up the challenge though and are missing out on some great opportunities as a consequence. It is interesting to note that at the last count 72% of students passing out as quantity surveyors in Universities were women but taking a look round the QS appointments in smaller companies, it is possible to ask where are they?
Some of the professions have been very successful notably the law and medicine where women now comprise the majority of student at the Universities.
Anyone who suggests that all of this is feminism is missing the point and missing a trick as well. What is essential for the future of UK businesses is gender blindness, so that anyone can and should be able to rise through a company irrespective of gender.
Frankly we shouldn’t need legislation to take the sensible view that there is a vast reservoir of untapped talent that could change the face of many businesses. Most CEOs complain of the shortage of good candidates for across the board but do they really consider the appointment of women in the same way as men?
This is not intended to be patronising; in fact it is anything but. A target of 25% for FTSE board representation is frankly miserly and it would be far better to accept that the genders are roughly 50/50 so why isn’t a target of 50% realistic?
I would really welcome more women in my Vistage groups but for some reason it has proved difficult to find suitable candidates. The reasons may be simply that there are fewer female CEOs anyway but I also think that some women might feel daunted at the thought of mixing with a group of male CEOs; unnecessary in fact as most groups would welcome it.
Women bring a different dimension and dynamic to a peer group and that is to be desired.
What is also needed is an even-handed approach to reward so that the remuneration is a reflection of ability and not of gender.
It will be interesting to see what changes can be achieved in the next ten years. Let us hope that industry and commerce come to their corporate senses and employ and promote more women. Anything else would be a travesty of good sense.
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