James Moore: Boards would easily find enough capable women to fill a quota

 

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The Independent Online

Outlook Roll out the bunting, unfurl the banners, put up the flags: it’s another victory for Lord Davies and Vince Cable. The Business Secretary and the former businessman-turned-campaigner have managed to cut the list of 28 companies named and shamed for their all?male boards down to, erm, 27.

Off the naughty step is Petra Diamonds, one of those FTSE 250 mining outfits you’ve probably never heard of. It has just appointed Octavia Matloa, a South African businesswoman and accountant, as a non-executive director. Another success, Lord Davies and his acolytes would argue, for our strategy of bringing the boardroom into the 21st century by making a lot of noise. Quotas? Who needs ’em.

Except that we do. Yes, the kicking and screaming has produced progress, but at the pace of a tortoise. And that progress has been motivated at least in part by the implicit threat that if boards don’t reform themselves, Mr Cable could reform them in ways they won’t like. That, and the bad PR they are receiving, might encourage a few more of the 27 on the all-male list to follow the lead of Petra. But will they go any further? One hates to use the word token about the formidably qualified and eminently suitable Ms Matloa, but unless Petra and its peers add to her number, and quickly, that’s what she looks like.

Which brings us to the issue of quotas. The most vociferous opponents of quotas are often women like Ms Matloa, who fear that they will be seen to have achieved their positions because of the quota rather than on merit. They should put that to one side and see the bigger picture. There is no evidence that women with the qualifications and capabilities to take up seats in Britain’s boardrooms are in short supply. There is simply a shortage of businessmen on nominations committees who are capable of seeing sense.

A quota, set at say 40 per cent, would change that. It might make a few people uncomfortable at first, but most of them will be talented and successful people who will get over it. In the longer term having boards with at least 40 per cent of women directors will become the new normal, and people will forget there was a quota in the first place. Then we can get on with tackling the other forms of stupid and unnecessary discrimination that blight the world of business.

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