Who’s the boss? Not women

NOV 15 — I’ve become rather a fan of Canada’s new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau.

Now I can’t say I know too much about Canadian politics or Trudeau’s policies but I do know that he appointed a Cabinet with an equal number of men and women.

This is the first time any major economy has a gender balanced Cabinet and when asked to explain his commitment to equality he answered simply: It’s 2015.

That’s more or less my thinking on the issue. In most of the developed world, women have enjoyed equal rights for decades. Only a few relics and dinosaurs will actually argue (publicly at least) that women are less capable or less intelligent.

We’ve seen perfectly successful female world, corporate and professional leaders. So there’s really no ostensible reason why, in 2015, women should be severely under-represented in Cabinets and other powerful bodies worldwide. Yet they continue to be.

Last week, I attended a Diversity Dialogue about Women on Asian Boards organised by PrimeTime Singapore a network of international business and professional women in Singapore and the numbers are staggering. In Singapore, the number of powerful women in business is basically negligible. Just 8 per cent of directors in SGX listed companies are women and under of 5 per cent of CEOs and chairmen of listed companies are female.

This is less than neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia but let’s face it none of the world’s nations can be held up as much of a role model barring perhaps Norway where gender quotas now hold that 40 per cent of directors of listed companies must be female. Some other European nations do have above average female representation 15-20 per cent — Sweden, Germany but here too quotas have been applied to drag the numbers up.

While it is heartening to see these increases, what’s disappointing is that it seems to take government legislation to drive this change. In Norway, companies that don’t fill their quotas risk being de-listed.

Women are severely under-represented when it comes to calling the shots... even though they are more than qualified. — Reuters pic
Women are severely under-represented when it comes to calling the shots… even though they are more than qualified. — Reuters pic

Basically companies worldwide have been unwilling to change independently. Even though it’s clear from nations that have implemented quotas that there is no negative impact on the bottom line of the corporations concerned.

The huge pool of female talent now available — 50 per cent of Ivy league and Oxbridge graduates (with higher GPAs on average) — or the fact that women are 50 per cent of consumers apparently just isn’t enough of a reason to accommodate them on boards.

Overwhelmingly male boards have no incentive to change themselves which means we are reliant on governments for change. And that got me thinking.

Many governments simply won’t move in this direction anytime soon. In the US, there’s ideological resistance to quotas. In large parts of Asia, policymakers are still overwhelmingly male and will not move strongly on the gender front.

Personally, I don’t think women can or should wait for governments (or men) to come round — we need to give corporations an incentive to change now, and I have an idea of how to start.

All we need to do is work together and borrow a trick from overwhelmingly male (and successful) religious organizations — certification.

That’s right — fair/equality certification; why not have an independent body that conducts gender audits of companies listed and non-listed. Points for female directors, support for female staff for example or de-merits for harassment complaints and the like.

Scores can be published online and the fair gender certification can be offered to those organizations that perform well and are committed to taking women seriously.

No women on the board — no certification on your product/restaurant or annual report.

Then all that would have to happen is that women who despite our lack of board representation make up a huge amount of the workforce and dominate the consumer space would boycott uncertified products (again look at how religious and environmental organizations have played this same game).

If it isn’t certified don’t buy it, don’t endorse it, don’t use it, and don’t get a job there.

And there, an immediate incentive for or the old men on boards everywhere to change their minds on women’s representations.

Sounds easy enough on paper — now how do we set about doing this in practise?


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