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Unlocking the door to the old boys' club

Jun 11, 2018
According to research, women still aren’t being represented fairly on boards, and factors such as unconscious bias, interlocking directorships and lack of network access could be to blame. How do boards unlock the door to the old boys’ club?

According to the report published by the Institute of Directors (IoD), Diversity in the Boardroom 2017, Ireland’s boards are lacking women. The report found that 65% of directors reported less than 30% female representation on their board – a poor indication of 21st century progress. 

Assuming recent CSO statistics are correct, women account for 50.6% of the Irish population and almost 60% of women aged 30-34 have attained a third-level education compared with 44% of men of the same age. 55.9% of women in that age bracket are working. Women clearly represent over half the labour market, are knowledgeable and have professional experience. In addition, while research indicates that women and men are equal in general intelligence (IQ), according to Sheila Annette Cunningham Robinson’s paper Leadership perspectives on advancing women to the C-Suite, women consistently outperform men in terms of emotional intelligence (EQ). Despite this, 44% of male directors surveyed by the IoD believe that there are not enough women suitably qualified to choose from to appoint to their boards. 

The problem

Men on boards are typically recruited through a pre-existing relationship, either directly or indirectly with other members of the board. Unfortunately, 72% of the women surveyed believe it is more difficult to get a board appointment due to factors such as the unconscious bias, interlocking directorships and less access to networks, and they’re probably not wrong. In short, there is an old boys’ club when it comes to boardrooms and women are having a difficult time breaking in.

The solution

Although quotas and company diversity policies are raising awareness of the issue, it is not ideal. Women want to be recruited for the value and experience they bring, not to tick an ‘optics’ box. So how will the status quo change? 

The answer is two-fold: 
  1. Educating boards on the value of diversity; and 
  2. Establishing shrewd and open-minded nominations committees. 
Boards and nominations committees need to ask themselves a few questions:
  • Why hasn’t the Board recruited female members? Or has, but in very low numbers?
  • Is there an appetite in the Boardroom to change this?
  • Does the Board have a method to objectively assess all candidates on the following questions to fill appropriate gaps in membership?
  • What skills are we short of? (Capability gap)
  • What perspectives and experience would be useful? (Insight gap)
  • What different networks can candidates provide access to? (Network gap)
  • What personal values will the ideal candidate have to successfully discharge the duties of a director? (Personality)
  • What is the candidate’s track record to date? (Proof of ability)
Only by employing an objective and open screening system will Boards attract top female talent and, conversely, women will feel they are valued and respected enough to be chosen to contribute to the success of the organisation. 

David W. Duffy is the founder of Governance Online and the author of A Practical Guide for Company Directors published by Chartered Accountants Ireland.