I went to another seminar sponsored by the Centre for Gender Studies today. This time it was about women on boards. Professor Vinnicombe and Dr. Sealy’s (the presenters) research stemmed from this question: If 60% of college graduates are women and women are outperforming men in school, why don’t we see more women in leadership? Where do they go?
They presented us with 5 myths surrounding the issue of female leaders.
- Women aren’t interested–This isn’t true (obviously, if it’s a myth). When interviewed, female executives said they wanted promotions.
- Women don’t have the right leadership style–Actually, once actually getting promoted to director women are more likely to hold multiple directorships than men.
- Women don’t have the right experience–Female career paths don’t typically mirror those of men. While men often have a lot of experience in one area, women are more likely to have experience in multiple sectors, which hasn’t been deemed “right” or as important as other career paths.
- Women don’t take risks–Data shows quite the opposite. Women are more likely to be appointed in precarious situations, such as when share prices are down, aka in risky situations.
- Highly educated women opt out of the workforce after having kids–According to surveys, most women leave work because their work isn’t satisfying. Those who do leave in order to care for children usually have hopes of re-entering the workforce after two years but find this task more obstacle-riddled than they’d hoped.
In 2011, women held 14.2% of all directorships in the UK. It is right around 15% in the US, and across Western nations these figures have plateaued. This low figure is a hot issue in the UK right now because the government has started threatening to create quotas if a more equitable distribution cannot be reached soon. Most people would prefer not to have quotas in place, so many companies are setting their own targets to have more female representation in leadership. Even if this is achieved, however, they might find themselves under a quota system anyway. The EU is threatening to implement quotas as well.
Rather than seeing quotas set in place, Prof. Vinnicombe and Dr. Sealy want to see procedural justice through a reform of the appointment process. In the private sector, the tap-on-the-shoulder promotion is quite common and doesn’t allow competition from others. If this doesn’t happen, they’d resignedly support quotas with the attitude that change may never happen without them. How unfortunate that so many women’s talents are being wasted?
Will there be any carry-over to the US? I don’t know. Maybe. It’s an interesting problem, though. Norway has had a 40% quota for three or four years now.