Women on boards and how the humble procurement department can help

By Alan Day, Chairman and Founder of State of Flux, a global procurement consultancy headquartered in London, UK

Recently I attended a dinner where Dina Medland was talking about the insights she had gained around diversity in the boardroom. Whilst the points Dina was making were more around boards being more representative of their customer base, the conversation quickly turned to women in the boardroom and the recent efforts that the UK has made to increase female representation across FTSE100 organisations.

Today we see the results of those efforts being published and the number of women in board positions has risen from 12.5% in 2011 when Lord Davies set the 2015 25% target to today at 20.7%. If the current rate of growth in female appointments to the board remained, this would leave the UK short of achieving the target. I know there is an interesting debate around setting targets or not and I can see both sides. Those against targets have argued it should be about the best person for the job regardless of gender. There is also a question on what happens if a business fails; would the targets be cited as a reason for failure of the business?

Conversely, there is always the argument of ‘what gets measured gets done’ and today’s results are a good example of this. Equally it is well recognised that by getting a more diverse board leads to better decision making, less ‘group think’ within the boardroom and ultimately better run businesses (1 and 2).

All this got me thinking about what role an organisation’s procurement department plays in this discussion. The procurement profession already has a strong female influence with Paula Gildert being president of Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply (CIPS) in 2012 and many others also doing great job in the role before her in 2010, 2005 and 2001. We also have some of our most successful UK businesses represented by a strong group of female Chief Procurement Officers (CPOs); think about just the financial services sector where you have HSBC, Barclays and RBS all with female CPOs. But I believe there is more business that could be done with their procurement influence….

Ask yourself, how often does your organisation look at the make-up of a supplier’s board? Knowing your suppliers well is critical to building a trust and strong working relationship and we know that a business follows the lead of their board. Given research has shown that diverse board is more likely to yield better results (1 and 2), then checking and understanding the supplier board make-up is simply good business practice.

Equally, what are we doing to ensure that we encourage suppliers to operate with diverse boards? Is your organisation’s procurement department building this into their thinking when choosing suppliers or even their decision making processes (should scoring criteria be assigned to it during a buying process?)? I believe if we all started to do this, it would encourage a rapid change in not just how FTSE 100 organisations but organisations in general select their board members.

If government were serious about encouraging more women in the boardroom for the better of UK business (as opposed to avoiding having EU sanctions imposed) then a good starting point would be building scoring organisations for their board diversity into their own procurement processes. Shouldn’t Francis Maud be encouraging all government agencies to now include this into their decision making criteria when selecting new suppliers?

The humble procurement department has an opportunity to change the future landscape of how business operates in the UK (and beyond) and I think we should embrace it.

N. Van der Walt, C. Ingley, G.S. Shergill, A. Townsend, (2006) “Board configuration: are diverse boards better boards?”, Corporate Governance: The international journal of business in society, Vol. 6 Iss: 2, pp.129 – 147
Mijntje Lückerath-Rovers Women on boards and firm performance

Achieving gender equality in the workplace

It’s time to tackle the gender imbalance in Britain’s boardrooms says Helen Croft of The Results Centre. She discusses what we can learn from other countries and how we can redress the balance.

The arrival of 2015 marks a milestone for women in business. Back in 2011, The Women on Boards Report, led by Lord Davies, recommended that FTSE 100 boards should comprise at least 25% women. So how close are we to achieving that goal; and what are the key issues affecting the gender debate?

The figures suggest that some progress has been made. The number of women directors on FTSE 100 boards has risen from 15% in 2011 to just below 23% in September 2014, according to the Professional Boards Forum BoardWatch. Furthermore, Denise Wilson, CEO of the Women on Boards group believes that the UK has made significant strides since the publication of the original report, saying ‘Along with Australia, we are two countries in the world that have made really great progress – we just need to keep it up’.

However, the Department for Business recently reported that 61 of the FTSE 100 firms have not yet attained the magic 25%, whilst Wilson herself admits to being ‘slightly concerned’ at the slowing pace of appointment of female executives in the latter half of 2014. Furthermore, Britain achieved a dismal ranking in the 2014 Global Gender Gap survey carried out by the World Economic Forum. Failing to even make the top 20, Britain actually fell by eight places to 26th, behind countries such as Nicaragua, Burundi and Rwanda.

In the same survey, the Nordic countries performed particularly well with Iceland, Finland and Norway in the top three. Norway in particular is notable for being the first country to implement gender quotas of 40% female representation in 2008.

The quota debate

Quotas provoke diverse and often heated responses. A recent debate hosted by the Norwegian-British Chamber of Commerce in collaboration with the Norwegian Embassy and Innovation Norway discussed how the system was working in Norway. Attended by business leaders and speakers which included Denise Wilson, the consensus seemed to be that operational performance had not been compromised by the quota system, and had actually increased access to a wider pool of talent with greater cultural diversity.

However, whilst the system appears to have been successful so far in Norway it’s important to appreciate that these pioneers started from a radically different position from the UK, and so even if we were to adopt similar measures, we would be unlikely to experience similar levels of success.

For example, Norway is well known for advocating paid maternity and paternity leave (after the first 13 weeks, either parent can take the remainder of paid leave from work) and subsidised childcare. Unlike the UK, there is no preconception that the mother should bear the major responsibility for managing child-related issues requiring absence from the workplace. Success in Norway came on the back of decades of a fundamental difference in how the Nordic society thinks about gender and family.

Identifying the key issues

Unfortunately, the quota debate can sometimes obscure the key issues. Whatever decisions are made about quotas, targets or otherwise, companies need to evaluate their own contribution to the equality issue and how that can influence their future prosperity. After all, having a satisfied, balanced workforce which feels valued is an essential ingredient for any successful company.

As someone who works with women in senior positions, I come across certain recurring issues. It’s acknowledged that the sexes think and behave differently – yet the workplace is often predicated on a male behaviour model. This presents an enormous challenge for many women. Many businesses respond by creating less demanding roles for women with families to return to. However, this can create a sense of frustration, boredom and lack of engagement – as well as failing to prepare the individual for any future progression in line with their capability.

Meeting the needs of your people

Research shows that around 43% of women who have children will leave their job at some point. About 75% will later return, but only 40% of those will resume employment full time. In addition, increasing numbers of successful women at the peak of their careers are leaving because they no longer have the passion for their job. Being engaged by what they are doing is a vital factor for the female psyche – with current trends suggesting this is increasingly a factor for men too. It seems that people are replacing the question ‘what do I want to achieve in my career?’ with ‘what kind of life do I want to have?’

To begin meeting these sorts of needs, businesses may need to rethink the way they operate. This could include initiatives such as flexible working; job shares, home working and results-based contracts with no standard hours at all.

For some, the steady progress made appointing women to boardroom positions is too slow; for others, proactive moves such as introducing quotas violate the principle of merit. However, if we are to address issues of balance and bring the best out in women, the starting point is accepting that men and women behave and think differently. Embracing this diversity and giving people the opportunity to develop their individual potential, no matter what their sex, will ensure that organisations have fulfilled and effective people in post. It may not happen as fast as it should, but for change to really work, we have to be realistic in identifying our starting point and build on what is already in place.


Educating and Training Girls – The next chapter for ‘Join My Village’


We are honored to be celebrating five years of Join My Village…. Five years of expanding access to education and training for girls and women as a means to break cycles of extreme poverty, and sustainably strengthen impoverished communities the world over.

Thanks to you and thousands of others who have taken actions in ways large and small, together we’ve been able to positively impact more than 5 million lives in India and Africa since 2009.
So now we’re looking ahead to the next five years – what it will take for Join My Village to continue to flourish so we can empower millions more girls and women to become agents of positive change for their communities.

Beginning today, you’ll notice a change to our website and social media posts. You’ll no longer see messaging that urges “clicks or likes” tied to unlocking donations from sponsors. The reason is quite simple: We want to focus on what truly matters, which is sharing the real life stories of the girls, women, families and communities which are being transformed through the work of Join My Village via our humanitarian partner on the ground, CARE.

What’s more, we are fortunate to have corporate sponsors (our founding sponsor is General Mills; while Merck enabled further expansion, including India) who are committed to providing charitable support to CARE that expands the impact of Join My Village. While your likes, shares and re-tweets are always appreciated and welcomed, our aim is to impact lives and communities in long-term ways – not to amass the largest social following.

join my village

You can expect to continue to see extraordinary field updates from the extended Join My Village team, including Henry’s reports from Malawi, and Sankalpa’s from India, in the form of photos, videos, and posts across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and our website. In the coming weeks and months you can also expect to see more ways to take action around the issues that JMV is focused on.

We are excited about this elevated focus on the outcomes and stories that matter most, and we hope you are too. On behalf of the extended JMV team, our deepest thanks for helping to advance this important work, as we show the world that positive change in impoverished communities is not only possible, but is happening right now.

Author: Nicola Dixon is associate director of General Mills Community Action and the General Mills Foundation.

How to change the ratio of women on boards

Three ways to re-examine and recruit more female board members by the end of 2015

by Lydia Dishman

women on boards

Does gender really matter when you’re in a leadership position?

Not as much as you might think.

A new study from the Pew Research Center found that honesty, intelligence, and decisiveness are believed to be the most essential leadership traits, according to 80% of adults. Both men and women agree. Large swaths of both genders say that innovation and intelligence is in evidence in both men and women. As for honesty, ambition, and decisiveness —there’s no gender distinction there, either.

If that is the case, there’s even less of a reason for the disparity of female board members at public companies in the U.S. According to a new study from nonprofit research organization Catalyst, the U.S. has 19.2% of board seats at S&P 500 companies, lagging behind Norway, Finland, France and Sweden, each around 30%.

Statistics like these had Solange Charas, puzzled and frustrated. Before she started her own consulting firm, Charas spent more than 20 years in c-suites and a variety of company boards including heading up human resources at Praetorian Financial Group and EURO RSCG, a national director at Arthur Anderson, a leader of the international compensation team at Towers Perrin, and worked with the board of directors of Martha Stewart’s company (pre-IPO).

With this front row seat, Charas says, “The differences between high and low performing teams are pretty clear when you see how they interact, the way they make decisions, and the outcomes.” The impact of a dysfunctional group was felt all the way to the bottom line, she observed.

Despite the clarity, Charas admits when a board was dysfunctional, “I couldn’t understand how to effect a positive change,” she says.

Charas decided the best way to solve the problem was further study. So she earned a Ph.D. in order to do more extensive research into the reasons why some boards soared while others flailed, and more importantly, how to replicate the creation of successful teams at any company, and effect its financial performance for the better.

In the course of her research and her observations within companies, Charas found that diversity was key to having a high performing team. “There is a lot of empirical evidence that boards that have women outperformed [those that were all male],” she adds, because the addition of women adds to the group’s collective intelligence as well as social sensitivity.

Her own research culled from responses of more than 1,000 board and C-suite executives suggests that a team’s collective intelligence, which Charas calls TQ can increase the company’s bottom line performance.

So what is standing in the way of adding more women to boards and executive suites? “Change is a slow process,” Charas contends, “We need to change the mindset of the boys’ club.”

Which won’t be easy she cautions. “Research shows that women tend to pursue ideas that they believe are in best interest of shareholders even under pressure of other board members,” she points out. For men, even as high up the chain as Warren Buffett, “Collegiality trumped. Men think more about not making waves,” Charas argues.

That has to change for boards to become higher performing and contribute to corporate profitability, she says.

With no diversity quotas in place for legislative boards in the U.S. (voluntary boards must meet 20% of the underrepresented gender by 2020) other measures must be taken, Charas says.

That’s one reason she joined the Thirty Percent Coalition, an organization committed helping women hold 30% of board seats across public companies by the end of this year.

Charas says there are plenty of organizations that help women ready themselves to take a board seat —creating a supply of seasoned executives who will be able to step into those roles with ease. However, the Thirty Percent Coalition works to drive the pace of change from the other side of the equation by creating demand for those seats. To do this, senior business executives, national women’s organizations, institutional investors, corporate governance experts and the public sector work to influence corporations to strengthen their efforts to increase the number of women on their boards.

For example, investors can rally the boards of the companies they invest in through a lobbying effort, Charas explains, that boils down to this: “we want to see this because we know relationship between women and higher bottom line.”

Charas also points out that teams at public companies need to be more reflective of its consumer base. She cites statistics of the buying power of female shoppers and many studies show that women control up to .

Some industries are taking matters into their hands. The Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition (OIWC) announced that the CEOs of REI, The North Face, Patagonia, and ten others signed a pledge to accelerate women’s leadership in their companies. This initiative should drive measurable change in an industry that accounts for 6.1 million U.S. jobs.

The REI Foundation is also awarding a grant of $1.5 million to the OIWC to support a major initiative that will build programs and services for the industry to better serve female leaders, offer matching funding for companies that support the OIWC, and create new opportunities for entrepreneurial women through advisory and mentoring programs.

Laura Swapp, REI’s director, Brand Partnerships and Multicultural Marketing and a vice president of the REI Foundation, tells Fast Company, “The evidence shows that balanced representation in executive ranks and on boards is correlated to stronger financial performance. So it is deliberate that our board is 40% women.”

Swapp notes that while REI is a co-op that is committed to representing all 5 million of its members’ interests, leadership statistics in the industry don’t reflect such diversity. “We think of the “need” in terms of an ecosystem which includes mentoring emerging women entrepreneurs, surfacing disruptive innovative ideas and increasing executive representation at the most senior levels. Boards are a big part of that picture.”

Charas says to achieve this, executives need to also rethink their recruiting strategy. With her extensive experience in HR, Charas contends that while it’s smart to hire people based on a cultural fit with the company, “we like to hire people who look like us and we sacrifice diversity for homogeneity.”

By not defaulting to friends and close associates, existing board members can inject a new dynamism by bringing in “strangers.” Charas says they should be screened for skill and motivation, but the new perspective tends to generate higher levels of governance quality.

Diversity generates new ideas, creativity and innovative, she says, but it’s important to find the balance between people who are disruptive and those who simply bring a different point of view. “You do want people who are going to embrace your beliefs,” she maintains, “Successful organizations are populated with those who go above and beyond because they like and believe in the company.” Regardless of gender.

Diversity – Top jobs still ‘impossible’ for many women

by Cathryn Newbery, People Management, CIPD, 26 January 2015

Diversity in the workplace lags behind shifting public attitudes

Are we doing enough to help women achieve their potential at work? The answer, in short, appears to be ‘no’. Although steady progress is being made towards achieving 25 per cent female representation in the UK’s FTSE 100 boardrooms ahead of Lord Davies’ deadline in just over 10 months’ time, a new report and practical guide from O2 and the CIPD has revealed that organisations’ efforts to encourage women to take up senior leadership roles are having little impact.

Nearly half (45 per cent) of the 2,000 women surveyed by the telecoms firm said they believed women don’t occupy enough senior positions in their company, with another 48 per cent saying they believed all decision-makers in their companies were male.

Breaking the Boardroom: A guide for British businesses on how to support female leaders of the future reports that 17 per cent believed it was “impossible” for a woman to reach a senior management role in their business.

Although more than a quarter (28 per cent) dreamed of being a chief executive, and a further 35 per cent aimed to reach board level, nearly a third (32 per cent) said their careers had failed to live up to expectations. Poor line management, a lack of training and development programmes, and negative office politics were all cited as obstacles to progression.

Crises of faith also threaten to derail women’s progress up the ranks, with more than a third (36 per cent) saying they lacked the confidence to ask for a pay rise or promotion.

“While the diversity debate has moved on outside of the office, not enough women are actually seeing this progress at work,” says Ann Pickering, O2’s HR director and a board member. “This jointly produced guide will help businesses support the talented women in their organisation, so they are able to reach the highest levels without the need for artificial quotas.”

“There’s been genuine progress towards government targets to improve boardroom diversity, but too much has been skewed towards non-executive positions,” says Dianah Worman, CIPD public policy adviser for diversity. “We’re calling on all parties in the forthcoming election to commit to a new voluntary target for at least 20 per cent of executive director positions in FTSE 100 firms to be filled by women by 2020.”

Read the Breaking the Boardroom guide at: bit.ly/CIPDBtB