There has been a lot written about women, boards and quotas recently, and with good reason. Gender balanced boards have a solid reputation for better performance and a healthier bottom line.
However, it seems some boards still have trouble with the business case for diversity, and are still not holding the door open for women to enter the boardroom.
Much debate has ensued about the best way to hire female directors, where to find them and how to enable them to succeed in their quest for a director’s seat. I’m a big believer that we must build the pipeline of future leaders and board members as a national priority. I am also a full supporter of women on boards and look forward to the day when such coveted positions become a natural progression for anyone with the talent who wants to sit there.
The truth is, not every woman does want to sit on a board.
While some of us aspire to a string of board positions, many of us don’t. There are a myriad of reasons for this. Some are unwilling to take the financial risk. Others have family, work or study obligations that take precedence. Others again may just not aspire to such positions.
Regardless of what reasons surround these decisions, we all have a vested interest in supporting board diversity and the journey to a balanced society.
Put simply, we need to support each other, utilise our networks, and be the cheer squad for those who desire board positions. We all have our own sphere of influence. We all need to be championing the cause of a balanced board and balanced business. It really does affect all of us.
We also need to change the minds of the men who, consciously or unconsciously, limit the progression of women to leadership positions. That is a cause we can all contribute to for the greater good, and the future of our sons and daughters.
It seems that there is progress in one area, in that of unpaid board positions. Clearly our intelligence is valued on these community boards, so why not on ASX-listed companies?
Sadly, what is now clear is that the drive towards balanced boards is losing momentum. In 2012, 63% of directors considered board diversity a key priority. This year, only 13% expressed such concerns. What happened? The survey of director concerns, published by King & Wood Mallesons in February 2013, highlights the need for a continued and united effort in this space. We haven’t yet reached critical mass and now is not the time to be resting on our laurels.
Are we afraid to bring up the subject? We needn’t be. Many studies have proven the bottom line effects of a balanced board. The results are clear. There is solid, verified evidence that a gender balanced board and senior management team indicates stronger economic performance. ASX 500 companies with female directors significantly outperformed those with no female directors on return on equity. Having women in board seats also leads to more women in senior management positions, assisting with the talent pipeline. It makes perfect business sense to back women. Surely that should get some attention? It seems we need to do some reminding.
So let’s all use our networks and keep one eye out for those women who do desire a seat on a board and the other eye out for opportunities and conversations that may arise. After this it is a simple matter of connecting the two. We can be proud of the business benefits of a diverse board and support our colleagues in gaining those positions.
Collectively we can put one giant foot in the door.
Want to meet others who have a vested interest in finding open doors? Check out the Network Central collaborative networks events in Sydney and Melbourne in March and also the Annual Women on Boards conference in May.