He would say that, wouldn't he?
I spent a good proportion of last week agonising over whether I should break ranks with the majority of my interim managers, and disagree with them publicly. The fact you’re reading this means I have taken the plunge.
It all began when I was asked to proof the latest press release relating to our recent white paper. As well as comments on matters ranging from the in demand skillsets, the fastest growing sectors for interims, and the effect of a Brexit on UK plc, our interims were asked about their views on gender diversity in the boardroom. Specifically they were requested to comment on European Commission proposals to end the glass ceiling, by forcing large companies to ensure they have at least 40% of their NED roles occupied by women.
Our interims’ views were emphatic:
- 81% said they thought quotas were a bad thing
- 69% said they thought mentoring was the most effective way of improving boardroom gender diversity
These views were a country mile away from my own personal position on the subject, and a good deal of time was expended between me and my PR advisor drafting and redrafting. In the end I gave up. I couldn’t square my own views with those of the majority of my customer base.
I think I should explain. I believe quotas are the best way of making rapid and lasting change for four principal reasons:
- Legislation leads behaviours. In the dark days of the 1970’s, the comedy series Mind Your Language received a regular audience of 18 million viewers, with its diet of “hilarious” casual racial stereotyping and, sometimes, overt racism. It is a rough contemporary of the 1976 Race Relations Act; the first piece of legislation seeking to end racial discrimination with any real teeth. Forty years on we live in a society where the overwhelming majority of people would find Mind Your Language horrifically offensive, and I believe that the legislation predated and predicated the change in attitudes. The best legislation shouldn’t purely represent opinion. It should help shape it.
- We live in an incredibly “connected” world where a company’s cultural DNA is both visible to and scrutinised by its customers, shareholders and employees. Many are sceptical about the Commission’s ability to impose fines on large corporations, but the real financial damage will be the threat to reputation.
I think there is a strong chance that consumers would choose - or reject - products sold by a company based on its position in a gender diversity league table. I further believe that the employer brand could be influenced even more markedly. Who would feel proud to join a business with poor gender diversity?
- Mentoring can help, but as well as being impractical, given the relatively small number of female board members available to mentor, it is also glacially slow. The demand for change will only accelerate and mentoring won’t answer the call quickly enough.
- Finally, and most pragmatically, I believe embracing quotas is the right thing to do as it is going to happen anyway. Businesses lobbying against or, worse ignoring it, are like the old-line retailers in the 90s sniggering at Amazon and its huge investment (and losses) in building a pure play online brand. A board ignoring gender diversity are reboots of the Woolworth’s executives of the 1990s. Earmarked for extinction.
So, a very different view to that expressed by 81% of my community. I’m not sure why I’m so out of step, and I certainly don’t have the encyclopaedic knowledge of the subject that a legislator or opinion leader will have. I suspect it’s all a matter of perspective.
I have been lucky enough to work at a senior level for two businesses who have championed diversity, and where diversity has been seen as both the right thing to do and the commercially advantageous thing to do. Businesses should always do the right thing for no other reason than it is the right thing, but if there are other benefits to it then so much the better. I can only assume that my interim community hasn’t seen more challenging approaches to diversity championed effectively, but as they become the norm, there may be an opportunity to change their view.
I hope so, but there is a doubt nagging at the back of my mind, which has been hard to shake off since I read a colleague’s blog post about the disappointing lack of gender diversity in the interim management community. Is there a correlation?
- 83% of UK interim managers are male
- 81% of UK interim managers believe NED quotas are a bad way of ending the glass ceiling
To (mis)quote Mandy Rice-Davies (hugely) out of context:
“He would say that, wouldn’t he?”
Note: These views are personal to me, and I expect they differ to those of many of our clients and candidates, and some of my colleagues here at Interim Partners. I would be genuinely interested in hearing all views of the subject and, in particular, any thoughts on how improved diversity can be achieved in the interim management community.
My view is “If you want something to improve, measure it”. Am I right?
Steve Rutherford is the Managing Partner at Interim Partners.