diversityThe debate around women in the boardroom has continued to rage once again, with the latest report from the Cranfield International Centre for Women Leaders highlighting that numbers are stalling. In its research, Cranfield found that over the last six months, levels of FTSE 100 board appointments going to women have dropped significantly.

Compared to the figures last year – which showed an encouraging 44% of new FTSE 100 board appointments going to women and 36% on FTSE 250 companies – the figures have this year dropped to 26% and 29% respectively. This has understandably brought the quota issue back on the radar, with many leading HR professionals continuing to argue for and against the introduction of targets which has been pushed by EU commissioner Viviane Reding.

While I agree that we’re not there yet when it comes to a perfectly integrated diversity strategy, I would argue against the quotas at this stage, simply because they do not address the real barriers to diversity.

Despite popular belief, creating a diverse working environment isn’t a simple case of head count at board level. Yes there are too few women in leadership roles, but simply putting a number to paper won’t address the actual question we should be asking ourselves; why aren’t women going for more senior level roles?

As I mentioned in my last post, there are three main barriers which HR professionals and senior management need to address:

• Understanding the current workforce to provide an accurate benchmark for changes
• Building communities over pipelines to support attraction of a diverse range of talent
• Helping management and business leaders experience exclusivity

As of yet, there hasn’t been a solution which addresses these three issues; and quotas most certainly won’t help. If we are simply encouraging women into senior roles for the sake of numbers, we won’t see a sustainable result. What HR professionals need to be doing is addressing this issue of exclusivity mentioned above.

While a company can bring a female onto the board, if they continue to feel excluded it’s highly unlikely they’ll stay in the role. And having had a negative experience, the female is unlikely to want a repeat experience in another senior role – thus we end up in a circle of discouragement which is perhaps holding many women back.

The results of the latest Cranfield research support this point. Yes there was a flurry of activity around the time quotas were originally being discussed, but as this begins to drop off the radar we’re seeing numbers fall. If we’re really to make an impact on the diversity issue, we need to be looking at a sustainable solution which really addresses the problem.

At Ochre House we’ve held think tanks with senior level HRD’s on this topic and are always striving to give HR professionals the tools to succeed. As the debate continues, we are working with international HRD’s to identify some of the best practice examples which can really drive this issue.


About Helena Parry