A few good women

Handing a sort of indefinable victory to women in what may yet prove to be a major skirmish in the age-old battle for gender equity, recent research has proven that companies with women directors tend to do better than those with executive teams made up entirely of men.

A lot of women reading this are probably thinking, ‘tell me something I don’t already know’ but the research organizations – among which is the New York-based global organization, Catalyst – believe men need to be enlightened, particularly in view of the current global financial and economic chaos.

Research completed by British law firm Eversheds in March this year found that better performing companies tended to have a higher percentage of female directors. And last year, a survey sponsored by recruitment firm Heidrick & Struggles and WomenCorporateDirectors found that women directors appeared to be more assertive on a number of ‘hot button’ issues, according to a report published by Reuters.

Some men are listening. According to news reports, the former British trade minister Mervyn Davies has said that FTSE 100 companies should strive to have 25 per cent women on their boards by 2015. A group of chairmen of British companies – including Roger Carr of energy company Centrica and Douglas Flint of HSBC – have launched the “30% Club” to help bring more women on to boards. They argue that having a better balance positively influences both a company’s culture and the decision-making process. In addition, the European Union Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier has announced that he has put gender diversity for bank boards on his radar in the wake of the financial crisis. Norway and Spain have already introduced quotas requiring a minimum level of female representation on boards.

While some feminists are roaring that such moves are long overdue and should have been implemented yesterday, the New York-based professional services company, Towers Watson (TW), said that while a small percentage of women might be ready to competently and confidently take their seats on boards of major corporations, rushing to appoint female directors just for the sake of it would do women and the companies that appoint them a disservice.

TW advocates the correct transition of women who are already in place, but would have been previously overlooked and stepped upon by that world renowned organization, which seems to exist in every country in the world – ‘the Old Boys Network’(OBN). It points to that fact that when boards are being set up or new directors are needed, men tend to point to one of their buddies, in some instances regardless of whether that ‘old boy’ is competent or not. TW proposes that companies ought to start now by providing the necessary coaching and mentoring frameworks for women, streaming them, so to speak, for directorships. TW’s suggestions make Davies’s 2015 deadline very doable.

Here in Guyana, the superficiality of gender equity is so palpable it’s almost a slap in the face. The much-hyped 30 per cent female representation in Parliament has been oh so very carefully maintained. It’s one of the few things that the political parties seem to be able to agree on – and without debate. However, there is no automatic transfer of this often-trumpeted feat to the boards of state-owned entities and no political party has ever sought to right this wrong.

In the local private sector, just a few good women have managed to pierce that lofty iron ceiling. A cursory glance at the boards of directors of banks and companies reveal that some have appointed a single female director. Some of the older major corporations have none, have never had any and are quite unabashed about this; the OBN is in perfect working order here.

It’s not that there is any shortage of women to serve on boards in Guyana; there just has not been any attempt to widen the net to include those with the skills and experience. In some cases it’s because of a lack of will and effort, or a lack of consciousness. Unfortunately, sadly, for the most part, it’s because despite the obvious signs that females currently rank above males educationally, and all of the hullaballoo about progress and democracy, women are still not given the respect they deserve.

Around the Web