On International Women’s Day 2012, are women finally conceding to boardroom quotas?

8 Mar

When Cherie Blair writes in favour of quotas, you can be pretty sure that a woman who’s made it in a man’s world knows what she’s talking about. I doubt very much she would be supporting a move to oblige boards to have a set percentage of their members to be female if she wasn’t convinced of the business case for doing so.

Her opinion piece in the Evening Standard, Women in Boardrooms Make for Better Businesses, looks at the EU’s plans to introduce tough quotas to put women in the boardroom. Justice commissioner Viviane Reding says that women’s patience has run out, and firmer measures need to be introduced to ensure gender balance at the top of the nation’s big businesses.

I agree there is a risk that quotas would produce trophy directors and that they would patronise women – even Lord Davies has said quotas would be a mistake.

However, what options are left? With plenty of evidence to show that diverse boards make for better business, how will companies achieve gender balance without being forced to?

For me, Cherie sums up the dilemma in her column: “The row over EU plans to force companies to appoint more women as directors also shows there is no perfect solution. I, like Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding, am a reluctant convert to quotas. In principle, I want to see people promoted on merit. I share concerns about tokenism and the backlash it can provoke. ut we also have to accept that while we are seeing progress in addressing the lack of women at the top, it is painfully slow.”

I’ll be watching the unfolding of the quotas debate with much interest.

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