Poor excuses for gender discrimination

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Companies criticised over unreasonable excuses for inequality

A new government-backed report has been released showing how some of the UK’s biggest companies justify their lack of female boardroom members.

The review was led by Sir Philip Hampton, who has openly challenged the FTSE 350 companies to ensure that by 2020, at least one third of their board members or leadership team are women. This target was also voiced and encouraged by the Prime Minister in 2017.

It’s a regrettable but well-known fact that not enough women are working in high-level positions, with only a mere 22% of senior managers being female in the UK.

Even more worryingly, there are only twenty chairwomen in total across the entire FTSE 350. This new review reveals the most common, and most controversial, reasons for why this is the case, all of which have been obtained directly from the biggest FTSE bosses.

What were the excuses given for the lack of female members?

Some of the most notable excuses which have created the greatest amount of uproar include:

“Most women don’t want the hassle or pressure of sitting on a board”

Statements as broad as this one are always practically impossible to justify. How can one person have such a vast insight into the opinions of all women in the UK?

The truth is, they can’t have such an insight – instead they simply rely on unfair stereotypes, most likely in attempt to reassure themselves that the lack of female board members is not their fault.

 “There aren’t that many women with the right credentials and depth of experience to sit on the board – the issues covered are extremely complex

There are many women with the right credentials and experience who could become fitting board room members; it’s about finding and attracting them to your company. If employers are failing to search for ideal female candidates, then it could be argued that they don’t deserve to reap the benefits that female leaders would bring. In this case it could be said that the company is simply unwilling to find the right women or offer the necessary training to enable them to become boardroom members.

 “I don’t think women fit comfortably into the board environment”

This comment seems to be mainly based on stereotypes and not tangible facts. It’s becoming increasingly well known that female leaders have a strong influence on their team, being recognised for building positive relationships and inspiring and motivating staff.  

 “Shareholders just aren’t interested in the make-up of our board, so why should we be?”

In all honesty, shareholders probably don’t care deeply about the make-up of a company board; what they do care deeply about is your business’s finances and profits. As an employer or business owner however, you should always be looking to improve your company in any way and this includes having a more diverse workforce.

“My other board colleagues wouldn’t want to appoint a woman on our board”

It could be argued that this comment practically condones sexist and discriminatory attitudes. Potentially ideal female board members will have been shunned by this company and denied a positon all because of their gender.

“We have one woman already on the board, so we are done – it’s someone else’s turn”

Achieving equality and diversity is not a box-ticking exercise. How would you feel if you discovered you had been hired not for your skill but rather because of your gender? If the above statement is true, it’s almost certain that this lone female board member was reluctantly hired just to act as a token woman representative.  Candidates should be selected for having the right skills, experience, values and attitude; not for any superficial reasons.

 “I can’t just appoint a woman because I want to”

This comment could be considered as very defensive. Whoever voiced this excuse will most likely be from a company that is predominantly male, reluctant change. Granted, their business is probably successful and they don’t feel the need for change, but having a diverse workforce bustling with fresh insights, opinions and ideas would unquestionably make them even more successful.

How are people responding to these excuses?

When looking at the excuses given, Amanda Mackenzie, who is chief executive of Business in the Community, said that “As you read this list of excuses you might think its 1918 not 2018. It reads like a script from a parody comedy, but it’s true. Surely we can now tackle this once and for all”.

Although the number of women on company boards in the FTSE 350 has actually more than doubled since 2011, it’s evident that this figure isn’t improving quickly enough.

How can you encourage more female leaders in your workplace?

When it comes to improving equality and diversity in your company, it should not simply be about numbers. You should explore different ways of recruitment, monitor the progression of staff members and encourage the use of mentors and sponsorships. Most importantly, you must work towards establishing a completely inclusive workplace where everyone is given the same chances and knows they can achieve their career goals at your company.

About Sophie van der Singel

About Sophie van der Singel

Sophie is a strong marketing professional graduated from the NIMA Institute for Marketing in 2015. As an experienced Marketing Manager she works with HR and employment law professionals to offer businesses within the UK the best possible services within the area of HR. 

Her passion is to provide services, advice and support to small and medium sized businesses with the goal to make them flourish. With great attention to detail and focus Sophie and her team have helped many businesses achieve their goals.

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