David Prosser: Do woman make less venal decisions?

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The Independent Online

Outlook One effect of the chronic under-representation of women in British boardrooms is that every time a story breaks about a female director it tends to be seen through the prism of gender issues. So it was yesterday with the announcement that Linda Cook, who came close to getting the top job at Shell, is to stand down from the oil giant's board.

What seems to have happened is that Ms Cook, having narrowly missed out on the chief executive's post at Shell, is now intent on exploring other opportunities. Her gender has nothing whatsoever to do with that decision – chaps do the same thing all the time.

Nor is there any suggestion that Ms Cook didn't get the Shell job because she is a woman. Indeed, the man she lost out to at the oil giant, Peter Voser, once left Shell in similar circumstances, having missed out on the finance director's post when a woman was appointed in his stead.

There is one point to make on the gender issue, however. Ms Cook's decision to quit means she will miss out on an £800,000 bonus she would have been entitled to by sticking around until 2011. The financial incentive was clearly not the top priority in the choice she made. If only Shell's board, humiliated a fortnight ago by shareholders over its executive pay package, had thought in the same way. Maybe – and only maybe – they would have done if more women had been involved in the decision-making process.

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