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In 2010, appoint more women to your board of directors

Dec 28, 2009 Business Daily, Leadership

“The number of female directors on FTSE 100 boards has stalled at 131 over the past year, a report has said.
Furthermore, the number of firms with female executive directors fell from 16 to 15, the Cranfield School of Management report found.
There was also a “disappointing” drop in the number of boards with multiple women directors, from 39 to 37.
Only four firms had female chief executives – Alliance Trust, Burberry, Pearson and Anglo American.”

NEWS.BBC.CO.UK (19 November 2009)

Kenyan women executives will be disappointed to hear the news from the UK, that even in advanced economies with less patriarchal thinking than ours, the participation of women in the higher echelons of business remains limited.

It is no different across the pond in America, despite all the decades of women’s liberation and determined feminism. The average number of female directors in American boards, according to a recent survey, is, wait for it…0.8. That confirms that most boards are just not interested in placing women on their boards. Chairmen feel the pressure from society, and go and seek out one woman for their board – and stop there. Pure tokenism.

Many say this is a “supply-side” problem – that the women who are fit and qualified to be on boards just aren’t there. This is pure tripe. The Cranfield report quoted here reveals that currently there are 113 women holding 131 FTSE 100 directorships compared with 834 men holding 947 directorships in the UK. Yet there are now 2,281 women on the corporate boards and executive committees or senior teams of all the FTSE listings. So only 1 in 20 or so available women are deemed fit to sit on a board. This suggests the problem is on the demand side, and that demand is being orchestrated by men.

Does this matter? Yes it does. The issue is not whether you have men or women on your board; the question is whether you have the right board for your company and your market. Boards of directors often operate in lofty cocoons, isolated from the rough-and-tumble of what really happens on the ground. Quite often, they haven’t got the faintest clue what their products really do and what lifestyles their customers lead.

Can you imagine a board of elderly men presiding over a company that is trying to develop cutting-edge mobile-phone software or social-networking products or on-demand reality TV? No imagination required – it is the current reality. Look around your organisation’s board: does it in any shape or form reflect the market that it serves? If not, what is it doing there? And a board that contains zero women is certainly not reflecting any market, other than perhaps one for products for the geriatric male…

Women received rousing approval recently from a surprising source: former Kenyan Attorney General Charles Njonjo. “Sir Charles” is deemed by many to be the doyen of Kenya’s old guard; yet he urged boards to go for women. He was attending a programme for directors that I lead at Strathmore Business School, and told his fellow participants that he too was reluctant to appoint women board members in times past. But his experience since has re-educated him: he finds that the presence of women on boards breaks up the male club mentality that so often suffocates new ideas and blocks new directions.

Today’s Kenya has no shortage of experienced women executives and entrepreneurs. The supply gap is disappearing rapidly. What is needed, in management suites as well as boardrooms, is for talent selection to focus on ‘fitness for purpose’ – switched-on people who are relevant to the current epoch. A board of directors consisting of infirm males is not fit for any purpose I know.

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