Who would have thought, at the end of 2012, that gender inequality in business would still be an issue? With the government calling for more women in the boardroom, while top female business leaders like Cynthia Carroll of Anglo American and Marjorie Scardino of Pearson resign, women at the top are evidently still scarce. Whether interim or permanent, it is clear that male domination still exists, but how can we change this?
Confidence to deliver
Although there is a traditional argument that women “can’t have it all”, this antiquated choice between the firm and the family is out of date. I believe this is more a confidence issue. Having the ability to perform a senior role today is not about being male or female, having a family or not having a family; it is about having the confidence in your reputation, skills and experience to deliver the solutions needed. But it is not all doom and gloom. Although I meet few female C-level execs in the cut and thrust of the interim industry, more traditional functions such as HR have them in abundance, which is positive.
The other aspect of ‘the cliff’ comes from the media. Whenever a woman is appointed or resigns from a senior position, the press (and the market) seems to respond with surprise. A woman at board level is still a story – it shouldn’t be. The pay gap between the genders is still a story – it shouldn’t be. This sort of coverage almost puts the drive for equality into reverse. Women in the boardroom, earning the same should just be accepted, not treated as a special circumstance.
Despite the fact that there are now some C-level women in the boardroom, I think that there are still too few top female role models in business for there to be a major cultural shift.
With today’s society obsessed with the cult of celebrity and youth, which senior women in business really stand out as tomorrow’s female leaders? Even programmes like Dragons Den (featuring Deborah Meaden and Hilary Devey) and The Apprentice (featuring Karen Brady) are male dominated.
The government is aiming for 25% of boardroom seats to be held by women by 2015, an admirable sentiment and one which I hope they fulfil without the need for quotas. However, the only way we will tackle the female cliff is to believe that if an individual truly has the ability to deliver a board level role, then they have the right to climb on up, regardless of gender.