Diversity in the Boardroom

Lloyds Banking Group have committed to diversifying its business dynamics by pledging to make 40% of its senior executives women by 2020.  This good news story has though, been followed up by the news the Women attendees at Davos have slightly decreased, in essence still showing that the female proportion of the world population remains largely undervalued, unrecognised and potentially discriminated against.  Why is it that this amazing untapped natural resource remains under used and underappreciated?

It is well-known that to have a successful business you need to have an entrepreneurial Board that considers the risks faced and applies their collective experience to the issues while individually challenging ideas and mitigating risk.  Diversity in the Boardroom allows a safeguard against reckless behaviour or the undertaking of risk for self-interest allowing entrepreneurial spirit to flourish.  Diversity brings different skills, knowledge and backgrounds allowing the Board to collectively become stronger allowing greater stewardship of a Business whilst decisions and business opportunities can be openly challenged and investigated. With this in mind why is it that there is still a gender gap? Why is the Boardroom still the domain of the male executives in general? Should we go further than gender itself in order to continue to ensure that our financial industry remains at the forefront of the international finance sector and global financial community?

I believe that the reason that the Boardroom remains a bastion of the Male senior executive is down to education, opportunity and succession planning. Without education or equal opportunities the calibre and number of candidates to undertake these roles is significantly reduced. Whilst without the long-term succession planning of a business, education and career advancement opportunities for employees cannot be identified or put in place, this worryingly may lead to potential candidates becoming disillusioned.

Throughout my various roles I have had the opportunity to work with people of all genders and I truly believe that this has allowed me to develop personally for the better and has advanced me in my role as a compliance specialist.  I have always fitted a person to role in respect of knowledge and experience they possess rather than preconceived ideas of gender. I now find myself in a position where some of these people have succeeded in obtaining their goals, some have even surpassed me and this gives me the hunger to continue to challenge myself and achieve. I can’t help but smile at their achievements.

I have been lucky enough to be invited into the Boardroom to deliver my reports and provide advice.  Where the Board has been diversified by gender, I found that they were more confident, open to challenge and discussion. These Boards reviewed in-depth my reports and advice and sought through their individual integrity to collectively come to a decision that benefited the company from a holistic approach of regulation, best practice and the business of the company.

It is unfortunate to say that I have also delivered my reports and advice to Boards that have been male orientated and at times had a stagnant corporate governance culture.  In some of these cases my reports and advice were treated more as hindrance to the business and not considered in-depth due to a lack of challenge by the other Board members.  This has led to regulatory consequences that could have been avoided with the regulator pointing to a failure in corporate governance.  I can’t help but feel sadden by the cost in remedial action and reputation and the personal cost this has caused, due to a lack of diversification.

Though I believe in diversification I am against positive discrimination, as this can unintentionally lead to the achievements of people being discounted and discredited, this serves no purpose but to demoralise the person or a workforce and at worst create distrust and aggression through bullying.  By businesses taking the Lloyds example, over a period of time they can establish suitable practices for education and opportunity for all persons and allowing for successful succession planning to be put in place.  Allowing for people of any gender to be enthused to obtain education and seek challenging opportunities, this can only lead to a better and stronger corporate governance culture.

While the negative connotations surrounding gender must be challenged and put to the annals of history, I believe that the attributes of a person must be considered above gender.  It is often too easy to follow a fashion and rather than enhancing the Board or the Company, you increase the likelihood of a weak or defunct corporate governance system with a greater potential for reduced productivity or business capability, reputational damage and regulatory sanction. It also does not assist in the challenging of gender inequality.

The Board need the best people for the job at hand regardless of gender and we are in times where decisions made by Boards are being challenged by various stakeholders.  There are high-profile cases where failure of a business was down to self-interest, and unacceptable risk taking due to a failed corporate governance framework that could have been avoided by diversification of the Board by suitable qualified and knowledgeable persons, allowing for the challenge of business practices and decisions.

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