Four myths about women on boards, exploded

The Female FTSE Board Report 2013 (subheading ‘False dawn of progress for women on boards?’) was published last week by the Cranfield International Centre for Women Leaders, along with the government’s report on Women on boards April 2013.  The Cranfield report in particular is a very good read.  I especially appreciate the way both reports explode a number of common and pervasive myths about women on boards – and about the progression of women into senior roles more generally.

Myth 1:  It’s just a question of time before more women make it to the top

Usually used as a justification for inaction, the reports clearly show that it’s not just a question of time before more women make it to the top.  It’s a question of time, plus action – and the more action that’s taken, the less time it’s going to take before women make it.

There’s been a lot of action since the publication of the first Davies report in April 2011 – taken by government, business, recruiters, investors and of course women in the pipeline.  And guess what?  The pace of change has quickened.  In fact, ‘the rise in the number of female board members in just 18 months is equivalent to the increase in the whole of the last decade’.

Myth 2:  These days, women can get onto boards whether or not they’ve got any previous experience

Usually spoken by people wanting to discredit the quality of women being appointed to boards.  In fact, ‘almost all’ the women who made it onto FTSE 100 boards this year had held board seats in major companies, with an average of three board seats each.

Myth 3: If you’re a man looking for a FTSE board appointment, forget it.  Boards are only interested in appointing women these days

Simply not true.  Men continue to dominate in the appointments to board positions; only 26% of recent FTSE 100 board appointments have gone to women.  74% have gone to men.

Myth 4:  Women don’t have the operational experience to make it onto boards

In fact, over a third of the women appointed to boards in the past year have operational roles (divisional/ regional Chief Exec and Chief Operating Officer roles).  27% have a banking and finance background, and 8% come from HR – long considered a career cul-de-sac as far as board appointments are concerned.  (Interestingly the report also goes on to say that ‘the assumption that HR is dominated by women is not confirmed at executive committee level, with women constituting 52% of HR executives’ – disproportionately low compared to the representation of women in the HR profession overall.)

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