Women in the Boardroom – what will it take?

Three reports came my way this week; an article, a radio interview and a small news item. Separate issues, but clearly linked.

In Financial News, with the headline “Davies shuns quotas to address gender imbalance”, is an article about Lord Davies and his research into women in the boardroom. He suggests that women should be allowed to rise to top roles through merit alone and that quota systems will not enhance the place of women at the top table.

During Monday’s BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, Jenny Garret was interviewed about her new book, “Rocking your Roll”. It sets out to go beneath the surface of what it means to be a female breadwinner, aiming to “drag women kicking and screaming out of the closet”. She says “I want society to change its attitudes to female breadwinners and stay at home dads. I want women to be able to celebrate their achievements to leave a lasting positive legacy for the next generation”.

Finally, there was a ridiculous, but perhaps quite revealing comment made by the author Tony Parsons who said that ‘his penis literally would have dropped off’ if, in a long-term relationship his partner earned more than him.

Women at work is the obvious link but there needs some further unpicking.

Perhaps Lord Davies is right and quotas are not necessarily the best way forward – so how will improvements be made to the numbers of women on boards and in senior managerial positions? Whilst men like Tony Parsons make comments such as his, the chance of change is remote. His view is not unique to him; it is representative of the views of many men, some of whom will be responsible for promoting and appointing into senior positions.

Jenny Garrett makes comments in her book that reinforces the current state of affairs. She suggests that some women like to maintain the status of their husband or partner as the provider for the family, in order that they can “hold their head up in the pub with their mates or with their families”. Joining the debate was Dr Caroline Gatrell of Lancaster University’s Management School who offers an additional comment “a woman being the main earner in a family has an impact on a man’s masculine identity”.

So what is really going on here? Contemporary words and rhetoric point to women being wanted in the boardroom and on the journey through senior management, but too often it appears to be one step forward (upward) and two back (down). If a man genuinely feels that his masculinity is being challenged by his female partner being the main earner in the home, then this will undoubtedly create an unconscious bias in his decision making about a woman’s hierarchical level in the workplace or on the board.

Men, Tony Parsons included, need to address their issues. We now live in a supposedly equal society. Women work as do men, and sometime they will earn more than their male partner: get over it!

Perhaps what we really need to be addressing is what goes on in management hierarchies that too often keep women south of the glass ceiling. There is a testosterone club where certain behaviours are tolerated and sometimes even encouraged. Women find it hard to gain membership and may not even want to join when invited. Perhaps you are a current member of this exclusive group; are you in a position to influence the joining rules or acceptable behaviour.

Lord Davies is right from an ideal perspective, but the ideal is fully dependent on men being more accepting and welcoming of women as equals or superiors; they must be ready and willing to change. Equality Edge has developed “Men in Management” a workshop or coaching programme to help men understand how their maleness and its associated behaviour impacts on others, particularly women, at work. Through it, men are enabled to relinquish some of their power, without it being a slight on the masculinity.

Oh yes, and by the way, when the woman is out earning, there is an opportunity for the man to share in the household chores too!

About equalityedge

I run Equality Edge and its unique and creative "Working with Difference" project. It supports employers and managers in gaining a competitive and cost saving advantage from meeting equality and diversity best practice obligations. Coaching and workshops are used to deliver organisational, team and leadership development, assisting in improving communication and the understanding of the impact difference has on workplace behaviour.
This entry was posted in beyond diversity, discrimination, Equality & Diversity, gender equality, glass ceiling, human rights, inequality, management, Prejudice, Sexism and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Women in the Boardroom – what will it take?

  1. Lord Davis comment is completely right, men like women should rise to higher position only on merit and not on gender politically correct quota, I work for several years at IBM global finance and my senior manager and CFO of the company was a woman and no one never had an issue with it because her work ethic and achievement were speaking for herself.

    But I feel bad for Tony Parsons, when wages level or earning standard is the main topic in your relationship, it’s time to live on your own, in my opinion…
    As for men clubs I don’t see any problem with that and we should probably not try to make everything a men/women thing, there are still boys schools in UK and people still send their kids to these type of schools and it seems that nobody mind so far, that some golf clubs (the masters in Augusta) want to keep a men only membership, I do not see where is the problem here, there are several membership clubs in the UK where men are not allowed and it isn’t headlines news….

    Anyone should rise only on merit and be paid or rewarded on the level of work done and objectives achieves.

  2. There is no glass ceiling on the cutting floor.

  3. Iqbal Tamimi says:

    I find it odd that we are still debating men’s insecurities and fears of not being the main breadwinners at a time families are struggling in this difficult economy. For most people it is an achievement to keep a job let alone being promoted regardless of gender. Regardless of who is earning more, couples should think of their best interest as a unit supporting each other. During the WW1, the conservative traditional minded men who did not like the idea of being married to women who were the main breadwinners, were forced to accept that against their will. They had to leave with the troops and women became the sole breadwinners, running factories, farms, family businesses and at the same time keeping the family together.

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  5. As an addition to my previous comment – if you want to see how far other women still have to endure iniquity elsewhere in the world see http://saudiwoman.me/2012/06/08/cornering-saudi-women/

  6. Thanks so much for continuing the debate on female breadwinners and society. Just wanted to let you know that my name is spelt Jenny Garrett and the book is Rocking Your Role. If you decide to read it let me know what you think.

  7. Reblogged this on rockingyourrole and commented:
    What do you think of this take on my Radio 4 interview?

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  9. Women have realised it’s much easier to get to the boardroom through special treatment (e.g. benefitting from the threat of legislated quotas) than through hard work, focus, and competing with men. Margaret Thatcher and other women of real merit would be APPALLED. If I were a woman, I should be utterly ashamed of the manipulations carried out, supposedly on my behalf. To quote the estimable Mrs T in her heyday:

    ‘I don’t want to get to a position when we have women in senior roles because they’re women, we want to have women because they’re as able and as well equipped as men and sometimes better.’

    While Lord Davies may be against quotas, he’s not against the threat of them if companies don’t increase the number of women on their boards ‘voluntarily’, which has let to a marked increase in FTSE100 female director appointments in the past two years. Almost all have been non-executives, what does THAT tell us?

    Lord Davies – a LABOUR peer appointed by David Cameron to report on gender balance in the boardroom – is an old-school left-wing bully, as you’ll see if you read his testimony to the House of Lords inqury on ‘Women on Boards’, available to download online.

    Mike Buchanan

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