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Almost one in three senior executives dismiss gender diversity

Almost a third of senior executives doubt the value of gender diversity in the boardroom, research has suggested.

The survey of almost 400 managers working across roles including HR, marketing and finance found 29% thought having more women in top management positions was not good for business.

The web-based study, conducted with members of recruitment service Executives Online, also revealed three-quarters of executives thought more appointments of women to senior executive roles could be achieved without quotas.

Only 21% agreed quotas should be introduced.

Heather Jackson, founder of An Inspirational Journey, which works to address gender imbalance in the top levels of business, said she was “gobsmacked” by the findings.

“It’s been proven time and time again that gender-balanced teams lead to build better-performing companies,” she said.

“I am absolutely gobsmacked that in this day and age we’ve got executives in business who don’t have a clear understanding of the business case for better-balanced teams.”

She quoted an IBM global report that suggested gender-balanced teams trebled employee engagement, trebled customer orientation, halved staff turnover and doubled a company’s performance.

“With such results, why wouldn’t you want to do that?” said Jackson. “Possibly these findings should make us question if we are really pushing the business case enough, or are companies just thinking the last three years have just been about women on boards rather than better performing companies?”

Quotas aren't the answer

In relation to quotas, Jackson said she agreed that quotas were not the best way to achieve better gender balance in the boardroom.

“We should be looking at companies setting their own individual targets,” she said. “A company setting a target has a much better chance of getting the buy-in, and the whole management team understanding why they’re setting those targets and what the business imperative is.”

More than a quarter (27%) of the survey’s respondents said mentoring and guidance for high-potential female executives earlier in their careers was a good alternative to using quotas. 

Almost the same number (26%) suggested discussion and visibility on the issue was a driver for changing views and behaviours. Just more than a fifth (21%) thought flexible working arrangements would encourage more women in to top roles.

Executives Online managing director James O’Brien said the results suggested executives were concerned about appointments not being based solely on an employee’s professional ability. 

“Examining the detailed explanations given by respondents, it’s interesting to note that the majority of those opposed to quotas express concerns that important positions may be awarded to women despite there being better qualified male candidates,” he said.

“They believe that candidates should always be appointed on merit alone. Others express concern that women may feel undermined due to inferences that they were awarded their position not on merit, but rather to fulfil a quota.”

Women: underpaid and under-promoted 

Yesterday, research presented by workforce development expert Tom Schuller at the University of London’s Institute of Education suggested able and well-qualified women would continue to be under-promoted and underpaid, unless more men were prepared to work part-time and accept sideways career moves.

Schuller said: "Too much of the emphasis on gender equality at work involves helping women to work more like men. It is time to enable more men to work in ways that are currently the preserve of women.

"Men need to stop thinking about a career only in terms of continuously moving up a vertical ladder and think positively about lateral moves, perhaps working part-time and, above all, choosing work which uses their competences but does not go beyond them.”

He pointed to a suggestion by the Equality and Human Rights Commission that at the current rate of slow progress, equality in the number of men and women directors in Britain's top 100 companies would not be achieved until 2080.