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North West businesswomen vote against compulsory gender quotas in the boardroom

 North West businesswomen vote against compulsory gender quotas in the boardroom

15/12/2011

Merit and ability should be driving board appointments, according to Deloitte research.

Two thirds of senior businesswomen in the North West are against the introduction of compulsory gender quotas in the boardroom. Instead, the majority believe that appointment to the board should be based on merit, experience and ability, rather than regulation.

However, despite rejecting quotas as a solution to the existing gender imbalance within UK plc, many feel that the current slow pace of change is unacceptable.

These findings come on the back of a survey of 50 of the most senior businesswomen in the North West, which was conducted at Deloitte’s bi-annual “Women Who Mean Business” event in Manchester. The attendees at the recent dinner, many of whom currently occupy board level positions, work across a wide variety of sectors, from media and professional services to public sector and health.

Rather than quotas, the businesswomen found in favour of more positive action throughout the corporate lifecycle to support the growth and development of women. Many cited better opportunities, increasing numbers of mentors and career support from the outset as ways to encourage more women onto boards.

Two-thirds also feel that publishing directors’ salaries would have a negative impact on the drive to improve equality in business.

Of those respondents who were in favour of gender quotas, many believe that enforcement is the only way to speed up change, despite not being “fans” of the principle. One attendee noted that “the majority aren’t going to change without some compulsion. The lack of progress since the Sex Discrimination Act was first passed shows that”.

According to almost half of the attendees at the event, the biggest barrier to women achieving boardroom positions is the ‘old boy’ network. Family commitments, lack of confidence and the historical cultures of organisations were also ranked highly.

Sharon Fraser, managing partner, regional markets at Deloitte, said: “It was interesting to see a group of such senior and experienced businesswomen name the ‘old boy’ network as the biggest barrier for women looking to win places on their company’s boards. This is a complex issue and, in truth, one that may only be overcome by regulating against it as a type of discrimination. However, the other perceived barriers of family commitments, lack of confidence and culture are surmountable and can be transformed through encouraging better understanding and fundamental change within organisations.

“Our respondents also agreed that women need to be clear about their personal objectives and work hard towards achieving them. Finally, the value of mentors should not be underestimated. Cited by a number of women as a way to redress the gender balance on boards, mentors are viewed as invaluable to the career progression of both women and men.”