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How attainable are boardroom gender targets?
Gender diversity targets are nothing new for businesses and the debate about how women can be better represented at all levels in the workplace has been high on the agenda for a number of years.
However, there’s often been a gap to bridge between intentions and action – something that companies in the finance sector are now starting to address with hard targets for gender diversity. Companies within this sector have set themselves an average target of 35% in terms of the number of women at boardroom level by 2020, according to data released by think tank New Financial last year.
As part of our In Conversation video series, where we interview top influencers within the business world to get their views on pertinent topics, we spoke to Dame Denise Holt, Non-Executive Director at HSBC, and Danuta Grey, Independent Non-Executive Board Director at PageGroup, to get their expert opinions on these types of targets. Watch what they had to say in the video above.
Both Dame Denise and Danuta are well placed to offer their views in this area, with both serving in non-executive roles on their respective FTSE 250 boards, and they gave us their opinions after speaking at Page Executive’s Midlands Women in Business event in Birmingham in March 2017.
What’s behind the target?
The 35% goal, up from the current average of 27%, was generated by looking at targets from the 71 firms which signed up to the Treasury’s Women in Finance charter last year. A number of retail banks, asset managers and mutuals have signed up to the charter since it was unveiled by the government last year. “By signing the Charter, firms are committing to driving change at the senior levels of the male-dominated financial services industry,” MP Harriett Baldwin commented at the time. “Such widespread commitment to the Charter will make a genuine difference to gender diversity in financial services and I am delighted to celebrate this today.”
Why are these targets so important?
According to Danuta, the “levelling of the playfield” at boardroom level is long overdue. “It’s essential to set targets like this,” she said. “It’s a statement of intent to open doors and level the playing field, which hasn’t been levelled for far too long.” However, while some could argue that setting quotas or targets can lead to positive discrimination in some circumstances, Danuta suggests that actually the old adage that ‘what gets measured gets done’ is key. “Sometimes people fear targets or what they see as positive action. But it focuses attention.” Dame Denise agrees and says it can be particularly important when recruiting new staff. “Clearly you don’t want someone on a board who just meets a target, who isn’t competent to do it. However, it does force organisations to find a better shortlist.”
What will businesses need to do to hit the targets?
Whilst recognising that strides have been made around D&I within business, Danuta suggests that companies in the finance sector will need to overhaul a number of their business areas – and not just around attracting new talent. “You have to look at recruitment processes, appraisal processes, challenge your thoughts on the convention of what great leadership looks like - which isn’t always a male model,” she explained. “It’s absolutely essential that you have real genuine commitment by leaders.”
Meanwhile, Dame Denise is confident that ultimately the targets will be met. “Do I think we need a big effort to get from where we are now to 35%? Probably not actually,” she concludes. “But it does require sustained effort.”
At Page Executive we’re proud to welcome great speakers like Dame Denise and Danuta to our ever popular events. To find out more about our upcoming events and Page Executive’s operations in the Midlands, contact Helen Schwarz.
T: 0121 634 6927