Working practices must change if we really want more women on boards
Analysis by ionStar of the boardroom dynamics of AIM100 companies paints a worrying picture – only 18 out of 300, or 6%, of executive directors are women.
Recent research by Cranfield University’s School of Management of the UK’s largest listed companies noted solid progress toward Lord Davies’ target for 25% of board seats to be held by women by 2015. However the picture is a lot less rosy when you consider the dynamic between executive and non executive directorships. Women make up 23.5% of FTSE100 board directors but only 8.6% of the executive directorships. The overall figure is buoyed by 28.5% of non execs being women. In the FTSE250 the pattern is similar but women directors account for only 4.6% of the executive seats.
Our analysis shows that this pattern repeats again in AIM100 companies, with 44 out of 367, or just 12%, of women non execs only marginally improving the overall proportion of women on boards to 9.3%.
But – perhaps more worryingly – when one looks at companies’ ‘pipeline’ of internal rising stars, the classic male-skew still predominates, and largely explains the limited progress in the proportion of women executive directors in the FTSE100 (8.6% from 6.6% in 2012). This is perhaps to be expected amongst the UK’s biggest companies where reaching the board may take you well in to your 40s. But for the newer, smaller, arguably more agile, and certainly less regulated companies of AIM, there’s no inherent reason for this structural rigidity to persist.
Some real disruption and imagination is required to create change, however. The traditional and inflexible way businesses have always been run will continue to deliver the same outcomes. More needs to be done to create genuinely flexible working conditions with greater focus on quality of output rather than face-time. The transition from full time work, to part or no-time work, then back in to the workplace – an issue largely but not exclusively faced by women – needs to be properly supported and celebrated. It is no wonder in the current environment that women fall away from the upper echelons of successful businesses.
None of this is to belittle the progress made or undermine its importance. Gender diversity on boards is as important is it is in every other aspect of life, business and personal. But without a sea change in thinking about working practices, I fear the languid progress in the proportion of women executive directors will be little more than tokenism.