The case for bringing more women into the boardroom

The case for bringing more women into the boardroom
Published October 2, 2014

Company boardrooms can often be male-dominated environments with a highly competitive and testosterone-fuelled atmosphere. But the nature of the labour market is changing, with a growing number of skilled and degree-qualified women assuming managerial roles in all sorts of industries.

Yet very few of these women progress to boardroom level, even though the proportion of male and female employees with university degrees is fairly even at the moment. And estimates suggest that by the start of the next decade, there could be more women than men who are degree-educated.

According to the latest Global Megatrends report from Roland Berger Strategy Consultants, the gender gap concerning employment and pay will have narrowed considerably by 2030, while the demand for qualified people will exceed the supply.

So why are so few businesses tapping into female employees’ potential and capabilities – and what needs to change to get more women into company boardrooms?

Pip Clarke, principal consultant and business development director at a&dc, believes organisations need to be much more receptive to promoting women to senior leadership roles and create more of a gender balance at the very top.

However, she said this would require a cultural change and a brand new mindset, as well as a concerted effort to make leadership roles more attractive to women.

Why are women under-represented at board level?

Ms Clarke believes the shortage of women at the top has arisen partly because many company bosses think they are likely to have children at some point. As a result, they will require maternity cover and there is no guarantee they will come back to work.

Furthermore, she said those who do go back to work are often perceived to be unable to perform more senior roles because of their commitments outside the workplace.

However, she insisted this is a “nonsense”, as there are many successful female leaders who have progressed up the corporate ladder after having children, while many of the same issues can also apply to males who choose to be involved in raising a child.

Ms Clarke acknowledged that some organisations have introduced diversity programmes and female-focused initiatives to get more women into top jobs, but warned these can often be a “turn-off” for some of their male counterparts.

Indeed, she said some men view these initiatives as tokenism and think women are getting top jobs because of their gender rather than because they are the best person for the job – even if they genuinely are the top candidate for a role.

Organisations were encouraged to focus less on women and instead on creating more of a balance at the top, as this would help them look at how they promote people in a different way – and potentially stop some women being reluctant to even try climbing the corporate ladder.

Benefits of a more gender diverse boardroom

Some male-dominated boards might need convincing that boosting female representation is a good idea, so what exactly would the benefits be?

Ms Clarke said it has been proved gender-diverse boards are more successful, as they can harness the different skill sets of men and women and bring about more harmony and discussion.

She also noted that women tend to be slightly less competitive than men, while many are good at the art of collaboration, empathising with others and listening to different points of view. As a result, bringing more females into the boardroom could promote better dialogue and reduce the chances of the best ideas getting lost.

By tapping into this pool of talent, Ms Clarke believes organisations could also take a broader look at their industry and create more ideas in order to innovate and be successful in a competitive market.

“If you don’t have that number of ideas, then you will by default come back with poorer solutions and more ill thought through strategies,” she commented.

“The more ideas you have, the more healthy it is for an organisation, as long as the facilitation of those ideas is done in a very positive way.”

Ms Clarke added that women shouldn’t have to behave like men in order to climb the professional ladder, but said more needs to be done to enable women to succeed while still being “authentic to themselves”.

This is an area addressed by a&dc’s leadership model, as it is not gender-specific and instead concentrates on helping people understand how they can be successful while staying within their own skin.

As a result, both men and women are able to develop suitable skills and be treated as individuals, rather than according to which demographic box they fall into.

“One size does not fit all. That’s what organisations need to focus on – having the right skills within the organisation,” Ms Clarke added.

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