It makes business sense and it’s socially just, why the City can’t get it together on gender balance in the boardroom??
On Wednesday 22 September, in the heart of the City at the London Stock Exchange, the Young Fabian Womens’ and Future of Finance Networks hosted an expert panel debate entitled “Balance in the boardroom: How to get more women leaders in the City?”.
Women only represent 5% of executive directors from the 600 companies quoted on the London Stock Exchange, according to recent research by recruitment firm Egon Zehnder. With the passage of landmark legislation in the US aiming to increase female membership on corporate boards and the establishment of the Lord Davies inquiry into female representation in Britain’s boardrooms, the Young Fabians Future of Finance Network brought together an expert panel for lively interactive debate.
Chaired by Rachel Reeves MP, former Bank of England Economist and member of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, panellists Clare Dobie, Immediate Past President of the Women’s City Network and witness for the Treasury Committee’s ‘Women in the City’ inquiry; Trupti Patel, Associate at Social Finance; Andrew Roscoe, London Director of Egon Zehnder International; and Cathrine Seierstad, Researcher at the Centre for Research in Equality and Diversity in Queen Mary University, all set out their views on the issues before engaging in discussion with the audience.
All the panellists agreed that female participation at the top of the financial services sector in the UK was too low, both in comparison to other sectors in the UK and in comparison to the rest of Europe. All the panellists also agreed that there were important benefits for business and the economy from having more female talent on corporate boards. Andrew Roscoe pointed to research carried out by his search firm, Egon Zehnder International, which indicated that corporate boards that are more diverse make better decisions.
So, if female talent offered so many advantages to business, why are these companies in the financial services sector missing out on the competitive advantage of having women on the board?
The panel agreed that a principal problem is that a lot of recruitment is driven by the fact that people “recruit in their own image” and British business and the financial services sector is dominated by men – and men of a particular social ilk at that.
The issues are certainly complex and intertwined. Trupti pointed to characteristics of the corporate workplace that didn’t reward typical female skills types of working. Andrew highlighted his firm’s research that showed that networking and proclaiming one’s own success were strongly associated with success, however in female focus groups these qualities were not seen as desirable. Trupti thought that women generally needed support to improve the way they sell themselves internally and earn recognition for their work, and that career networks often helped women acquire these skills and gain the necessary confidence.
Parental leave was also an important part of the picture. Businesses see maternity leave as a financial risk. The Icelandic model, where parental leave is divided between men and women and the business risk is equal, was seen as an example for the UK.
On aspiration, the panel felt that the City should do more to raise awareness of job opportunities in the city and seeking to influence the careers advice or family advice that is so influential to people’s career decisions. There should also be better case studies of positive examples of women at the top of business.
Cathrine discussed the Norwegian experience of legislation requiring corporate boards to meet minimum gender quotas of 40%. The justification for positive discrimination was based on the need for a wider distribution of power, but also on an economic argument, that companies need to use the entire wealth of talent available in society to be competitive and that diversity has a positive impact of the board and the bottom line of company performance.
The panel agreed that there has to be a change in the culture at the very top for there to be real substantive change in the long-term over the sector and in society. Panellists and attendees alike agreed that encouraging such social and cultural change – which makes economic sense as well as being socially just – was precisely what the Fabian Society was for.
This event was kindly sponsored by the London Stock Exchange and Egon Zehnder International.
The Young Fabian Future of Finance Network was launched by Lord Drayson in March 2010 with the aim of better connecting socially-minded individuals from finance and the City of London with progressive politics. The Network provides an empowering opportunity for progressives, of all shades, from the front edge of industry and research to contribute their expertise to the progressive effort to respond to global policy challenges. Network membership is not limited to Young Fabian members, but open to all individuals who identify as socially-minded progressives.
For the full event report, please visit the Young Fabian Future of Finance Network Site: http://youngfabians-networks-fof.ning.com