Fawcett Society: We need positive action to break through the glass ceiling

Anna Bird, acting CEO of the Fawcett Society, outlines how far big business has to go on gender equality, and what strategies may help it to redress the balance.

On the day the government-commissioned Davies Report recommends UK-listed FTSE 100 companies should aim to have their boards 25 per cent female by 2015, Anna Bird, acting CEO of the Fawcett Society, outlines how far big business has to go on gender equality, and what strategies may help it to redress the balance

The most recent Female FTSE 100 report reveals the percentage of women on FTSE 100 boards is 12.5 per cent, showing a three-year plateau in the representation of women in leadership positions of UK companies. Despite many years of tapping away at the glass ceiling, it is stubbornly intact.

This is not just about equality in the workplace, it is about access to power. Not only are nine out of ten of our top business leaders  men, there are currently only four women out of 23 in the cabinet.

Whether it be in Davos or Westminster, decisions which will affect all of us are being made without women at the table. At the current pace of change, girls born today may never see equal numbers of men and women at the top table.

Set against the backdrop of the deepest spending cuts since World War 2, the need for radical action is more, not less important. Women already experience entrenched and unjust economic inequality in the UK. Women earn and own less than men – the gender pay gap rests stubbornly at 16% and 64% of low paid workers are women.

Prising open boardroom doors and ensuring women have equal access has proved one of the most challenging issues when it comes to work place equality.

Despite an increasingly robust business case for female leadership, growing awareness of the issue and publicity around it, women’s representation at the top is stagnating, and in some cases shows signs of regressing.

We are wasting talent and losing opportunities for growth and innovation. Evidence shows that more women in senior management and boardrooms leads to better corporate performance, a boost to the bottom line, and allows businesses to tap into new insights about their customers, when women currently hold 80% of consumer power.

To see the benefit we need to deliver a critical mass – at least 30% women according to research by McKinsey.

We can no longer pretend that boards are recruited as a result of merit. The government should impose a gender balance requirement when it comes to the makeup of boards – a quota system – as part of a wider package of measures to get more women at the top table of business.

The evidence is there that positive action does the job. Looking across comparatively at countries such as Norway, quotas have proved effective in creating a tidal wave of change. In just six years female board representation rose from seven per cent to 44 per cent.

Of the 25 countries in which more than 30% of parliamentarians are female, the vast majority have got there through positive action. Quotas provide an opportunity to open up boards so that women have the opportunity to compete on an equal footing and the best female business talent can take its rightful place at the top table.

Implementing positive action measures means we will be able to take a sledgehammer to the glass ceiling.

Without implementing some form of positive action to redress the lack of women in boardrooms and political life, the government’s commitment to ensure gender equality in the workplace is simply an empty promise to women and an empty threat to those monopolising power.

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15 Responses to “Fawcett Society: We need positive action to break through the glass ceiling”

  1. LadyRoisin

    RT @leftfootfwd: Fawcett Society: We need positive action to break through the glass ceiling: http://bit.ly/hHBAEU @FawcettSociety

  2. Mark Stevo

    Who gives a shit what McKinsey think?

  3. Universities

    Yes there should be no difference between the gender…. on the other hand the womens should be given more chance for their involvement into the progress of the country… and this thing should not be only on papers, rather than it should be practised widely to decrease the gender difference.

  4. Daniel Pitt

    RT @leftfootfwd: Fawcett Society: We need positive action to break through the glass ceiling: http://bit.ly/hHBAEU @FawcettSociety

  5. Mr. Sensible

    Anna, it is indeed correct that we need to promote more equality within boardrooms and across workplaces.

    I remain in 2 minds on the issue of quotas; whilst they have proved effective in making places such as Parliament, particularly the Labour Party more representative, there are those who say it can prove demeaning to women. Quotas have their merrits, but also their problems. I think this extract from a Guardian editorial on the subject from Monday sums it up.
    “First, quotas are not the whole answer: in pioneering Norway, the number of women directors has fallen back from nearly half to less than 40% amid reports that quotas have led to personally damaging appointments. Some women Labour MPs might sympathise with the nightmarish consequences of being propelled into high-visibility, high-risk roles with inadequate preparation and a noisy mob willing you to fail. But they should be consoled by the evidence that quotas have also been transformative. They have broken a vicious circle. Theresa May and Yvette Cooper can take each other on across the dispatch box without anyone discussing their appearance. Hardly a final victory, but politics is at last beginning to look like a suitable job for a woman.”

    I do agree, though, that government cuts could damage the progress we have made in terms of equality; I read somewhere that 55% of the public sector workforce is female.

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