We need more woman leaders but quotas not solution

Posted Friday, September 23rd, 2011. Filed Under Corporate - Tips/Tools Blog

I have already written about this before and as the topic has surfaced again I will touch on it.

The title above is an actual article that was found in the National Post, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011 written by Pamela Jeffery.

The author says that every time she opens the paper there is another article on gender quotas: proposed parliamentary quotas in the EU, gender quotas for seats at the World Economic Forum and quotas for female board appointments in Norway.

In the past eight years, Norway, France, Spain, Iceland, Malaysia, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands have all passed laws that mandate a certain percentage of female seats is required on corporate boards.

This author asks if it is working? Not the fact that women are on boards, rather, that due to quotas not always are those with the best experience and ability chosen. Even women who support women appointments say that a hire should never be based on gender or colour.

One of the greatest problems to start with is that in Canada and around the world in many countries, women are “woefully” underrepresented in senior management, particularly amongst Canada’s biggest companies.

There is also a scarcity of women on our corporate boards. A 2010 study conducted by the Canadian Board Diversity Council found that only 15% of board seats are held by women, and only 10% of board chair positions.

What does it take to wake up our Canadian Businesses? Why is diversity so important? This is not just an equity issue but a business issue. It has been proven that more diverse boards perform better, better reflect a company’s customer base and have a better bottom line. With Canada attracting more and more immigrants to our country, it is time to reflect the mirror that exists — not the mirror of past: male, white men.

Some researchers feel mandated female seats are necessary to kick start the process for women in power bring along other women of power. As well, the success from a new female recruit may entice the board to invite more women executives to help steer their company.

Other researchers feel that quotas may lead to a backlash and resentment. Or that hiring an under-qualified women to a seat may be a disservice to other qualified women who may or may not get a chance as a result of their counterparts’ performance.

The fact remains that more women would be on boards if there were more opportunities for women executives working in the upper echelons of Canadian companies. Women are still in the minority of senior management positions in this country. In order to see change at the board levels we must first see change at the executive level. This alone would broaden the amount of qualified women to choose from.

We do know that there are qualified female candidates that are not being tapped. They are board-ready. What needs to shift is the process of selection. Boards and their recruiters need to get rid of their old habits and beliefs and broaden their search beyond the old boys’ network.

For companies that want to move into the new 2012 energy – male/female balance, harmony, team work, empowerment – then someone is going to need to shift the old paradigms, challenge the system and be a leader who is willing to change the composition of their board. With a number of Canadian directors retiring over the next few years now is the time.

Female representation must evolve to become the rule, not exception. But we shouldn’t have to resort to rules, quotas, to make this happen.

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