Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Board Diversity - should gender and ethnicity have a quota?

Having seen a few snippets in quick succession on the matter, I figured it was as good a time as any to revisit Board Diversity, the gift that keeps on giving...headaches to Legal, Compliance and Company Secretarial departments all over Europe!

My initial interest in the matter was piqued by the potential dichotomy between having a Board that was "Fit and Proper" in the context of Solvency II or indeed the myriad Corporate Governance Codes within Europe, and the simultaneous push within the EU for setting quotas for a minimum percentage of female representatives on Boards.

Certainly a couple of years back, it looked like companies may be faced with a choice of meeting any gender quota (but with a Board that was not "Fit and Proper", if only due to lack of Board-level exposure and experience), or simply thumbing their noses at the quotas. The UK's current informal approach recommended by Lord Davies suggests that, while progress is being made on the gender front specifically, there is no danger of radical positive discrimination in order to meet a quota, regardless of who sets it.

I have therefore rather caustically covered the topic on previous posts (here, here and here) due to the hijacking of the word "diversity" as actually meaning "gender diversity" - seulement! There is evidently nowhere near enough working class (or working class origin) representation on plc Boards, not to mention ethnicity, disabilities and people who have served coal-face time in not-for-profit or charitable sectors - do they get a quota too?

All levity aside, there are rumblings from the UK Labour party that perhaps gender isn't the only quota worth talking about, floating the idea of ethnic quotas should they be elected next year. Bearing in mind the shamefully unrepresentative gender and ethnic make-up of the British members of parliament, and the triteness of his leader's behaviour when white-bloke hunting at PMQs the other week, he may wish to turn his attentions closer to home. That said, if the diversity debate has broken out of its gender-soaked malaise, it is cause to celebrate.

Dude? You're barred...
InsuranceERM have (unwittingly?) helped to perpetuate the idea of "diversity" being a debate that is overwhelmingly about gender in a recent round-table centred on how the Insurance industry "...can become more reflective of society" - which had no dudes in attendance!

While I certainly wouldn't argue that Insurance was, is, and will continue to be the "domain of the white male" for the foreseeable future, can that be remedied by excluding said males from a conversation on inclusivity of all things?

While the conventional pros and cons were discussed about Golden Skirt-style quotas, mandatory shortlisting of women for senior positions and mentoring, the child-rearing-sized elephant in the room was also tabled. The prevailing opinion seemed to be that it is encumbent on both employers and women to do a bit more during that phase of life to maintain career progression.

Had my two cents been sought (heaven forbid!), I would have added the "H" bomb into the mix. As a husband who works in another country from my family home, I personally offer an additional constraint to my wife's career every single working day, and one thing which won't change between generations is that one partner generally has to "take one for the team". Do the significant others of UK plc realistically provide more of a constraint on career development than any of the factors discussed by the InsuranceERM panel?

I would also have referenced Britain's blue-rinsed demographic timebomb, caring for infirm relatives, in this context, a job that most men manage to avoid, even when it's their parents! I have no first hand experience on the matter, so am reluctant to do more than float the idea, particularly when high-achieving female talent may have the means to outsource such activity.

Progress on the diversity issue therefore remains clunky, piecemeal and gender-obsessed. With every Lloyds (voluntarily?) taking the initiative, there is a Glencore or LSE who manages to clear the decks!

I certainly hope to see some progress on the gender percentage front soon, if only to hit a target so that we may switch the debate back to genuine diversity. With the topic gaining traction across the pond, maybe we won't have to wait too long.

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