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CMI CEO: Embrace ‘targets and transparency’ for more women at the top


At a Fawcett Society event experts debated the case for and against quotas for women in business and public life

Businesses need to be encouraged to embrace “targets and transparency” in order to get more women into senior leadership positions, according to CMI CEO Ann Francke.

Francke was speaking at a Fawcett Society debate on quotas for women in senior positions in business and public life. She said although she is against quotas being enforced by government, “the threat of quotas is a great thing”.

“There is an enormous business case for women making up more CEO and executive positions,” she said. “More women mitigate the risk of group think – shorthand for white middle-aged men – that has been the cause of many corporate implosions. But quotas short-shrift organisations from going through [genuine cultural change]. Instead you’ll get a lot of moaning and those women will be resented.”

Francke said she is in favour of mandatory gender pay reporting, leading to "greater levels of transparency”, but that businesses should set their own targets. She also said men need to be engaged as “agents of change”.

Fawcett Society chief executive Sam Smethers said the organisation is calling for “time limited” quotas to “speed up the pace of change”.

Also in favour of quotas was barrister Charlotte Proudman, who said they are necessary to tackle “institutional sexism” in the judiciary. “Men will never give up their privileged position unless they have to,” she added.

An Inspirational Journey founder and executive chair Heather Jackson called for a focus on changing business cultures rather than legislation. “Quotas are not a sustainable, proactive solution,” she said. “Fix the leak, fix the culture. Quick fixes don’t work.”

As previously reported in HR magazine, Fawcett Society research has found recruitment decision makers could be standing in the way of gender equality. According to its Sex Equality - State of the Nation report, recruitment decision makers were more likely to be against gender equality and 14% said they would personally lose out if men and women were treated equally.