How can businesses diversify the boardroom?

Here, Geeta Sidhu-Robb, founder and CEO of Nosh Detox analyses what could be done to achieve a more diverse boardroom in the UK.

Joining the board of a high-performance business requires experience, but you need to get on a Board to gain this experience. It’s a vicious cycle, and one that often leaves talented entrepreneurs on the side-lines and overlooked for opportunities. A lose-lose situation for both parties involved.

Increasing the number of women in board-level positions in the UK has been a huge challenge for business and diversity professionals for as long as I can remember. These decisions are made by those responsible for the hiring processes of these major companies. So, who makes these decisions?

The decision of course, lies with the Board who vote in the new members. According to research by Deloitte, in 2011, the UK government commissioned an independent review of women on boards in the UK. It was revealed that more than one hundred FTSE companies had no female directors at all and almost half of all FTSE 250 companies did not have a single woman in the boardroom. Following this a target was set for FTSE 100 companies in the UK to achieve at least a 25 percent representation of women on boards by 2015. This target was achieved.

However, now in 2018, this progression has peaked. Efforts to help women and those of an ethnic minority advance in these board level positions are constantly being hindered by archaic attitudes towards women and assertions of our abilities in the work place. Based on the recent government-backed Hampton-Alexander review, the government wants women to make up at least a third of all boards for the UK’s 350 biggest companies by 2020. Are we on track to meet this target? At this rate, absolutely not.

Nurturing female leaders from the get go

With such an uphill battle ahead, we need to address the issue of complacency within company boards. While many recognise that the issue of gender and ethnic disparity is an issue amongst these organisations and express their support, there is still very little being done about it. Companies are falling back on the same old tired excuses “we can’t find anyone appropriate for these roles”, “there aren’t any current vacancies” and “there just aren’t enough women who are senior enough for these positions”. This shows how narrow the recruitment searches of these positions are and that many executives don’t care to expand them or equally struggle to hire outside their comfort zone.

We need to encourage more women and people of different ethnic backgrounds to go after the high-level executive roles and nurture women in mid-level positions to get them Board ready. Why do women in particular, need this encouragement? The answer is simple.  Women think and operate differently to men and not only often lack the confidence to apply for positions we are more than qualified for, but we also do not feel part of the ‘tribe’ and lack the network to showcase our abilities.  We still operate in male-dominated environment with structures that do not support us.

So, what can be done? It’s all very well recognising the issue but what process can be put into place by organisations to combat such prevalent gender and ethnic inequalities in the Boardroom. Whilst it is impossible to implement an effective solution overnight – there are methods that are already being implemented today. These include initiatives such as Board Apprentice schemes.

Board Apprentice scheme: progress or long overdue?

Board Apprentice schemes are an important stepping stone towards gender and ethnic diversity in the Boardroom.  They are crucial to providing the exposure and experience to the Boardroom that talented entrepreneurs need, and which they may not have access to on their own.

Board Apprentice schemes also provide Boards with exposure to talented entrepreneurs they would not otherwise meet and introduces them to the diversity of talent that comes from these Apprentices.

Lose the attitude

Many narrow viewpoints amongst senior heads, a lack of exposure to successful women and overall entrenched attitudes towards women are a huge part of the gender disparity issue.

However, a single individual cannot be held accountable for this fault, it is the system and engine that runs it in which are to blame. It is through dialogue and deliberation that we will begin to see a change.

We need to remember that people run companies, and employees look to their leadership for direction. It is the executive branch that must reflect open understanding before the company can move forward as a whole.

The time to act is now

There is a slow but steady momentum now for gender parity, as organisations are under more pressure than ever before to diversify and become transparent in their practices. The UK governments’ initiative was successful in bringing this transparency to the public sphere by enforcing companies to publish their gender pay gap statistics. This was a good start, but now it’s time to get the momentum going.

Countries which have enforced policies where all hirings are required to represent both sexes show the most success in changing the face of their Boardrooms. And within a very short period of time. Is this what we need to implement in the UK?

The 10 FTSE 350 companies with all-male boards:

  • Baillie Gifford Japan Trust Plc
  • Daejan Holdings Plc
  • Herald Investment Trust Plc
  • Integrafin Holdings Plc
  • JP Morgan Japanese Investment Trust Plc
  • On The Beach Group Plc
  • Sports Direct International Plc
  • Stobart Group Ltd
  • TBC Bank Group Plc
  • Ti Fluid Systems Plc

Geeta Sidhu-Robb is the founder and CEO of Nosh Detox – the UK home delivery service of non-pasteurised juices and meal plans. She has recently been appointed as Board Apprentice to Invesco Perpetual Select Trust.

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