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HR reaction to Lord Davies report into women on the board

Lord Davies unveiled his Independent Review into Women on Boards this morning. Here is what the HR sector thinks...

Laura Whyte, personnel director, John Lewis

"As a business that continues to invest heavily in our people, John Lewis welcomes the emphasis the government has placed on the gender equality issue through Lord Davies' report. I strongly support the setting of targets rather than the introduction of quotas for women in boardroom positions to address this balance. Business leaders must take responsibility for building an effective talent pipeline, and make it a commercial priority to identify, invest in and train potential leaders from its entire workforce. It is also vital that women in senior positions act as role models and mentors to other women who aspire to work at this level.

"I believe that coaching and development programmes and strong succession planning is essential for any business to prosper, especially in the current economic climate. At John Lewis we have made it a priority to focus on these areas to ensure that all our staff, both men and women, are given the right tools and support to maximise their career progression. This progression is well exemplified through our newest appointment to the John Lewis board, divisional registrar Harriet Hounsell, who joined as graduate and has worked her way up through the business ever since.

"Half of our board directors are female. The leadership teams within our shops comprise a third more women than men. This is well ahead of recent figures published by Skillsmart, which outlined that nationally only 13% of females in retail employment hold management positions compared with 25%. Our focus around talent development is to get an even better balance throughout the business."

Jackie Orme, chief executive at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (pictured)

"We welcome Lord Davies focus on a voluntary approach. His review marks the start of a process. It is the right start, but everyone involved in the governance of British firms now needs to step back and recognise that there needs to be a fundamental shift in established perceptions of what a great board member looks like. That is the only way we will ensure we get to and beyond the 20% target swiftly and in a sustainable way.

"That means far more than setting internal targets and filling them in a tick-box way. From my own experience in business, I know that a range of opinions, backgrounds and perspectives is always better than what is often referred to as ‘group think’. But I also know that we face a challenge to some severely entrenched attitudes in many boardrooms. A woman who, being interviewed for a non-executive director role at a FTSE 100 firm, told me a startling story: ‘Don’t worry; we’re not interviewing you because you’re a woman. We’ve already got one of those’. It is precisely that kind of tokenism and numbers game we need to avoid.

"We need to get better at drawing from non-traditional sources – and the benefits of that approach will extend far beyond getting more women in the room. It holds out the prospect of generating a vibrant new generation of board members, capable of challenging orthodoxy, banishing group think, and generating more sustainable growth for their firms.

"By seizing this opportunity to challenge established norms, we’ll do so much more than just ensuring women are allowed to make up the numbers. Lord Davies has created a platform we can build on – but everyone involved in the governance of our biggest firms now needs to step up and play their part."

Christine Hodgson, chairman at Capgemini UK

"Mixed gender boardrooms are beneficial, both in terms of bringing different perspectives to the table and promoting diversity in the workplace. While I believe that setting targets will create a focus and drive for change, I don’t believe that forcing quotas is the most appropriate way of increasing the number of women in the boardroom.

"Any professional wants to climb the career ladder based on the recognition of skill, talent and determination, not because the board feel obliged to meet quotas. Lord Davies’ report quite rightly brings an important issue to the forefront of the Government and business world’s agenda but it is important to remember that future talent needs to be nurtured.  

"In the UK, 15% of Capgemini’s vice presidents and 26% of the business as a whole are female, figures above the industry average given that a recent report from e-skills UK revealed that women make up just 18% of the IT and telecoms professional. I believe we can increase this figure further by setting our own targets, fostering support and mentoring systems and creating an environment in which women as well as men can succeed on their own merit and irrespective of quotas."

Carmen Watson, managing director of Pertemps Recruitment Partnership

"Businesses should be held accountable for setting targets that are achievable and realistic for the marketplace in which they are operating. They then need to create frameworks and infrastructures that will help nurture and develop top female talent.

"Although women make up half of the population and more than half of university graduates, they remain woefully under-represented at board level. What is needed is cultural change, which fosters the leadership development of women in middle management, not quotas, ratios or tokenism. Flexibility allows firms to set targets that reflect the realities of their market place, and is more effective.

"Boardroom diversity is no longer an option but a critical part of the growth strategy of many businesses in order to remain competitive both in the UK and abroad."

Helen Wells, acting director of Opportunity Now, the gender campaign within Business in the Community

"The recommendations within the Lord Davies Review should be welcomed for their pragmatism. Increasing the diversity of UK boardrooms is something that delivers business success and commercial advantage. I believe that better-balanced boards are better boards, full stop. Study after study proves that having a diverse mix of experiences and perspectives leads to better strategic decision making, increased innovation and better corporate governance.

"Diversity helps avoids the pitfalls of group-think and the excessive risk associated with one dimensional thinking. Evidence suggests that increasing the number of women on boards can contribute to higher return on equity and total return to shareholders. The business case is compelling, but there are still not enough women around UK board tables. Cranfield research highlighted that women make up only 12.5% of FTSE 100 boards, only 5.5% of executive directorships and that 21 of the top 100 companies have no women on their board at all.

"The recommendations put emphasis on reporting the number of women on the board, women in the pipeline and women within the organisation as a whole. They also suggest that businesses should have measureable objectives and a plan of how to achieve their aspirational targets. Let's be clear about this – increasing the number of women on FTSE 100 boards to 25% by 2015 means that of 1,080 board positions an extra 135 need to go to women or put another way we need to recruit an extra 27 women each year."

Ashley Ward, director of European Leaders

"In the corporate world the glass ceiling is still prevalent but retiring. It’s kept alive by some the protagonists of the cause who do no favours for the gender as dinosaurs are fuelled by female aggression to the cause or even the very suggestion of a quota of women on boards.

"A lot of women overcompensate for gender where the behavior, were it to come from a man, would lead to very negative reactions. Men use personality, charm, assertion and personal attributes to get what they want and woman can also do this very effectively, particularly with other women where they can gain through compatriotism.

"Talented women do take advantage of gender and get an advantage through their gender because they are in the minority and it does separate them from the competition. The male gender actually responds better to women, at least at the early stages of interaction. They often get given better advantages through this positive discrimination.

"The most efficient executive is the working mother. Childcare timing is non negotiable. It means they work effectively wasting little time with normal corporate discretions."