I’ve been thinking a lot about getting women on boards. I’ve been thinking about it for a while, especially since International Women’s Day when quotas on boards for women dominated the media.
My thoughts about getting women on boards float between the many elements that make up this debate. First of all, the disproportionate amount of time women spend out of the workforce to raise families that men aren’t expected (or even supported) to take on has an obvious impact on their perceived suitability for promotion to senior management or appointment to a board.
Actually, the perception that women, just because they have a tendency to procreate (lets not question the other half that’s necessary for procreation), will be a burden rather than an asset to a workplace is absolutely false but persists nonetheless. And don’t get me started on the barriers that men face to being an active and equal parent! Sure it’s a pain in the arse that women are expected to do most of the care giving to raise families, but it’s even worse that men are expected not to and expected not to want to.
Secondly, women are less likely to be advocates for themselves in the workforce, ie. less confident in putting themselves forward for jobs, for promotions and pay rises. Recently, I heard a former senior HR lady from PWC speak about the differences between hiring men and women. She commented that men will confidently tell her they are 160% qualified for the job. Conversely, women will often point out their faults in the interview. In my opinion, us ladies should be just as proud of and confident in our ability as the gents who are out there vying for the same jobs as us. But, interestingly, she also made the comment that Gen Y women she’s interviewed for roles “end up asking me the questions and pretty much run the interview”. Her tone implied that these Gen Y women didn’t know their place and needed to be taken down a peg or two. So I guess my point for young women entering the workforce is: don’t think that you have a natural ally in other (older) women who have had to fight to get where they are. They are just as likely to have got to where they are by taking on the workplace culture that rewards male confidence but looks down on it in women.
Third, by focusing on ‘quotas for women’ we blind ourselves to the key area that needs to change in order to increase female representation in senior tiers of the workforce. By focusing on the representation of women we reinforce the idea that women are actually the problem. And this is my revolutionary idea. Women are not the problem that needs to be solved to improve their representation in senior management and governance positions. Men are the problem. There’s an over abundance of them. And an over abundance of white, middle class ones.
Instead of focusing on the reasons that women can’t access these jobs (which has nothing to do with a flawed or biased view of meritocracy, the men in these senior positions would argue), we should focus on why there is an abundance of white men in these positions of power and decision making. Because, to tell you the truth, the problem isn’t just the lack of women in senior management and board positions. The problem is a lack of diversity in general. Where are the aboriginal board directors? Where are the indian female senior managers or executive directors?
If we put a cap on white men by capping male representation AND a racially/culturally homogenous make up of the board or senior management team, then we open up space for women and men of all backgrounds and experiences. This way we can increase diversity in these roles, which will result in better management and governance of our organisations. I’m not making this up, there is a truckload of research into why diversity is particularly good for the financial and management performance of an entity.
So. The revolutionary idea is that rather than focus on the symptoms of a problem (the poor representation of women on boards and senior management teams), we should focus directly on the problem (too many white guys in these roles). Too often feminist discussions and solutions can get co-opted by male privilege and fail to question why men aren’t disadvantaged in the first place. Calling for quotas for women is just one example of this. Lets cap male privilege instead. It’s time to diversify meritocracy.