Do the continental walk!

Two steps back for business this week, as EU proposals for quotas for women on boards hit the skids, and Cynthia Carroll joined Marjorie Scardino as the second woman CEO of a FTSE 100 company to step down this month.

Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Justice, Citizenship and Fundamental Rights, has been campaigning for Europe’s listed companies to be required to appoint women to 40% of their Board positions by 2020.  There’s been a lot of opposition from business – particularly in the UK and apparently particularly from women – on the basis that gender quotas will result in poorly qualified women being appointed to Boards to make up the 40%, and quotas in any case don’t make any difference to the ‘real issue’ of the representation of women in the pipeline to Executive roles.

On the first point, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that there are enough talented women out there to fill 40% of Board positions right now, let alone in eight years’ time.  Three cheers then for Martha Lane Fox, founder of lastminute.com, who described the view that quotas result in ‘sub-standard’ women on boards as ‘patronising and sexist’.  On the second point, it seems that the quota for women on Boards in Norway and elsewhere has done little to increase the number of women CEOs in European business.  But it ain’t necessarily so.  Why not learn from the experience in Norway instead, and redouble efforts to strengthen the pipeline alongside (not instead of) the introduction of Board quotas?

Still, all is not lost, and I have my fingers crossed for a redoubling of efforts on quotas themselves later in the year. Viviane Reding’s Twitter feed from last week (@VivianeRedingEU) tells a poignant 58-word story of hope crushed but not defeated:

22 October: ‘This week, I will fight for a Directive to bring about gender equality in corporate boardrooms’

22 October:  ‘Of course, there will be some opposition.  But #Europe has a lot to gain from more diverse corporate boards’

23 October: ‘Gender balance directive postponed’

23 October: ‘I will not give up.  @BarrosoEU [Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission] will put this on the Commission agenda again before the end of November’

And talking of the pipeline, disappointment at Cynthia Carroll’s decision to step down as CEO of Anglo-American, joining Marjorie Scardino, CEO of Pearson, who announced her decision to resign in the same month (as indeed did Kate Swann, CEO of WH Smith).  With just two women CEOs of FTSE 100 companies remaining (Angela Ahrendts of Burberry and Alison Cooper of Imperial Tobacco) the high-profile business-women role models for my teenage daughter remain few and far between.

On a lighter note, take a minute to check out Hank Ballard and the Midnighters doing ‘The Continental Walk’ here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gaf-9Su_xTw  It’ll get you singing all the way to the boardroom!

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