Increasing the numbers of women on boards has been an ongoing challenge not just in Wales but worldwide. While making a real change to the historic culture in business can often be met with stumbling blocks, here Carol Warburton, HR and Audit Director at KTS Owens Thomas, explains why, on International Women’s Day, Welsh businesses can’t give up on making a significant difference to the diversity of its boards.
The representation of women on boards has been on the news agenda for decades. Rarely a month passes without new figures being released on gender diversity in executive roles, an issue that will continue to be spoken about until changes are realised and importantly, maintained.
In Wales specifically, the picture is worrying, with women’s charity Chwarae Teg reporting just 2% of chief executives in the top 100 Welsh businesses are women.
It’s hardly surprising that this issue remains a concern for women in business in Wales, but other than making an impact to those statistics, what difference will having a greater proportion of women on boards actually make?
Diversity – which goes beyond just gender– has an instrumental effect on how an organisation operates. A range of backgrounds and experiences contribute to a well-rounded, effective board that benefits from a blend of skills, not solely influenced by factors such as gender. Indeed, a board must require that the best person qualified to undertake the role should be the one appointed – I suspect that those talented and capable women that could add real value to boards are either not aware of such roles or are not always approached.
So what can we all do to make a change? Shifting attitudes in business will not happen overnight and while the topic is under discussion it’s clear that there is still some way to go. Things have changed since I began my career thirty years ago; I recall a male dominated landscape with corporate events geared towards male attendees and business meetings that took place at gentleman’s clubs rather the boardroom. There is more of a shift now that enables inclusivity and diversity, indicating there is an evolution underway towards a more appropriate balance.
Good work is already being done to accelerate matters and encourage that balance. Initiatives like Chwarae Teg’s ‘50:50 by 2020’, a pledge to create gender balance on Welsh boards, is putting the issue front and centre of boardroom consciousness. For this to work, Wales needs the long-term commitment of its government to continue to support these schemes. We also need women themselves to consider their capabilities and skills, realising the value that they can bring to a board. It requires them to develop a confidence that will place them in those rewarding positions.
As we’ve already realised, addressing the representation of women on boards does not have a one size fits all solution. So in the meantime, I would encourage businesses and women themselves to keep the issue on the boardroom agenda so that we are able to maximise the chances for a future that benefits from diversity in Welsh boardrooms.