Quotas producing ‘tick boxes’

There is a classic management line: ‘what gets measured gets done’, which is, of course, a wry way of saying be careful about what you want to measure. The latest appears to be that if you ask for boxes to be ticked, you will get boxes ticked – but you might not really achieve what was intended.

Cranfield University’s School of Management has released a report on the percentage of women on FTSE 100 boards, noting that it is on track to reach 33 per cent by 2020.

So far so good, but the report also notes a trend that companies are appointing women for symbolic value. The annual Female FTSE Board Report, reveals that women tend to serve shorter tenures than men (on average, female non-executive directors serve 3.8 years – with male directors serving 5 years) and are less likely to get promoted into senior roles.

Okay, so the good news is that of the female appointees, the ethnic diversity is in line with the population in the likely age group with 11 per cent of women on boards are from BAME backgrounds.
The bad news is that there are factors that have resulted in ‘tokenism’ in placements – an echo of the ‘golden skirts’ Norwegian criticism of placement – and potentially other barriers (care issues, maternity, and outright discrimination might all be issues).

Sue Vinnicombe, Professor of Women and Leadership at Cranfield University, and lead author of the report said: “Since we started our report more than two decades ago, we have seen the number of women on boards increase from 6.7 per cent to 32 per cent. There has clearly been great progress on the numbers front but scratch beneath the surface and we suggest that some companies have simply been ticking a box.”

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