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Male-dominated boards: 'Excessive risk taking, testosterone driven egos and a lack of duty of care'

The glass ceiling is triple-glazed in many organisations, writes Kieran Moynihan.

Kieran Moynihan Board Excellence

FIGURES RELEASED LAST month revealed that 29% of FTSE 100 board positions are held by women – up from 12.5% in 2011.

This trend is being echoed on boards of some of the largest companies all over the world – but we are a long way off where we need to be when it comes to equal gender representation at the upper echelons of industry.

In Ireland we have even greater strides to make – the National Women’s Council of Ireland reported last year that women comprise just 16% of membership of Iseq 20 company boards – behind the European average of 23% and significantly behind the UK’s 29%. In short – we have to do better – we have to do more.

Gender quota

The EU commission is advocating for a gender quota that requires 40% of a listed company’s non-executive directors to be female.  The aim is to fast forward gender equality on boards in the EU, where women currently hold an average of 22% of seats across the EU 28.

A number of EU countries including Spain, Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands and more recently Germany have adopted quota systems to promote women directors.  Spain adopted a measure in 2007, Belgium, France, Italy, and the Netherlands followed in 2011, with Germany following in 2016.

These countries score amongst the highest shares of female directors in the EU.  Norway has had a system in place for more than 10 years and now women hold 42% of board seats.

Corporate ladder

Creating greater opportunity for women to advance on the corporate ladder is not just a form of social justice for the betterment of society – it makes better business sense. Having a diverse board composition will ultimately lead to more success at board level – which will feed down into the entire organisation.

Decision-making is a key function of any board – and to ensure the right decisions are made requires input from people with a vast array of expertise, insight and experience. Women form part of this necessary group dynamic.

While some genuine progress has and is being made in increasing female representation at board level, we must not forget that it’s equally important to ensure that there is a pipeline of female talent coming through that can fill these non-exec board positions.

Developing this female talent pool is explicitly linked to the level of female executives and senior managers who are getting the experience needed to be an excellent non-exec board member.

Finding the balance

Experience is key, and we know this because many of the worst boards in terms of female non-exec representation, use the convenient excuse that before they would seriously consider a female non-exec she would have to have non-exec board experience. So, it’s a vicious circle and those female candidates with of the required calibre, but who are not getting an opportunity to break through.

Finding the balance however, is crucial. In some countries such as Norway, where a strict quota system was introduced, you ended up with a different problem – where the experienced female non-execs were continually chosen for Board roles – resulting in many of these women ending up on 10 or more roles – which is both ineffective and inefficient.

The rational/ argument for having more women on boards does not just end in gender parity. My experience in supporting board teams in a variety of countries and sectors has been that female non-exec board members have a strong work-ethic, have a genuinely different but complementary thinking style to their male board colleagues, have a very sensible approach to risk and have a strong commitment to genuinely add value to the board.

Excessieve risk taking

I would strongly believe that in a large portion of corporate collapses involving the board, there would have been very few, if any, female non-execs on the boards. History suggests that, in many cases, the demise of these entities occurred because of excessive risk taking, testosterone driven egos and a lack of genuine duty of care and accountability to shareholders, staff, customers etc.

However, experience would suggest that had there been a more female influence, a more caring and conscientious approach would have been taken which might have counterbalanced or at least diluted some of these behaviours.

Progress is being made – there is no doubt. And say we reach the gender quotas set out – the story & the struggle does not end there. We need to ensure that once in the boardroom women have an equal opportunity to contribute. Stats have shown the women on boards are much less likely to be chairperson and have a much shorter tenure than men. So, getting to the board does not, in fact, equate with equal representation.

The glass ceiling has been in place for many, many years… and to break through it is a process that will take many more.

About the author:

Kieran Moynihan  / Board Excellence

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