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Quentin's Quotas Quandary
22 March 2011
The womenomics of quotas – the supply and demand of women as board members. I cannot begin to tell you how twisted my knickers are about this at the moment ...!
On the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, GG Quentin Bryce advocated the introduction of quotas, goals and targets to ensure more women are appointed on company boards. She believes that such affirmative action might be the only way to break the stranglehold of the ‘old boys’ network on Australian business.
Then shadow treasurer, Joe Hockey banged on about a 30% enforced quota for women on boards when companies fail to fix ‘the problem’ on under representation. I’m sorry Joe, is 50% too scary for you given we represent half of the population? Humph ...
Anyway, from a womenomics perspective the supply of women as board members is there, the demand ... it appears ... is not.
There are women who want to play at a strategic level and will undoubtedly add value ... as long as they have the intent, insights and abilities that fulfil the strategic and governance needs of the organisation.
I am reminded of a letter to the editor of the Australian Institute of Company Director’s magazine, where a woman was wondering out aloud as to why she hadn’t been appointed to a board even after completing a board member education program. Being a woman with a training program certificate doesn’t necessitate a walk up start. Yet it does highlight the blocks in place for those that wish to contribute at board level.
Perhaps women are challenged by how to break through the male code while still maintaining their values and integrity. How often have we seen lovely women turn into ice maidens, dripping in unnecessary and unnatural machismo once appointed the boardroom? We do not need women behaving like men at a table full of men. In fact, my husband the Pompous Goose beat me to it this month with his blog on the topic, saying that “women are not promoted on merit when the merit is based upon male codes of conduct and practice” ... Men are simply appointing in their own image and occasionally, it is the women, not the men, that tend to behave badly.
However, what I find more interesting is the demand for women on boards.
We can consider government intervention and kick around the concept of quotas to ramp up affirmative action but you have to ask, why are in this pickle in the first place?
Indeed, last week also saw the announcement of an invigorated Workplace Gender Equity Agency [previously known as the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency]. The Agency is charged with new powers and a new platform, “compelling businesses to not only demonstrate they have a plan to improve gender equity in their workplace but to show actual results ... Any Australian company that fails to meet WGEA reporting requirements will be excluded from sharing in any of the $42 billion worth of government contracts” read more >>
Ouch! So we’ll hit the hip pocket as punishment and further drive tokenism.
The demand for women on boards needs to be driven by strategic advantage and women need to be invited on merit, not force or fear of fiscal decline. Increasing women at a strategic level will help drive equity and a radical shift in corporate patriarchy ... as long as there is universal investment and leadership integrity in the business case for boardroom representation.
So, has anyone asked ASX, government and not-for-profit boards why they are diversity-challenged? Answer this, and I reckon we might find the true solution.
In the meantime, the Julia jury on quotas is still out.