Veronica Rawlings | May 12th 2012 | @EG_LeadershipTE
The issue of women and boardroom quotas has reared its rather weary head once again, with well-worn arguments for and against taking up far too many column inches. It made me think that if this is being done in the interests of genuine diversity then we're going about it in entirely the wrong way.
From a glance at the press coverage, you would think that diversity begins and ends with women, or indeed with ethnic minorities, if we're going to mention another popular example. I agree with Andrew Hill of the FT who argues that “gender quotas are a distraction". How likely are we to find true diversity among people, male or female, black or white, who’ve been through a traditional education system, a good university, and then spent 20 years climbing the corporate ladder, with perhaps a few foreign postings and an MBA along the way for added excitement?
I guess focusing on women might be seen as a start, but if you take a look at the CVs of the smattering of women currently holding board-level positions at FTSE 250 companies, I wouldn’t say their appointments indicated any sort of innovative or new approach to selecting board members.
I'd put some younger people on boards. What they lack in experience they might make up for by being more in touch with market and social trends. And how about some entrepreneurs and start-up veterans? They tend to be independent thinkers with different ways of looking at things. And people from genuinely different cultural backgrounds rather than those that just let you tick the ethnic minority box? Surely boards of western companies should be looking for candidates with backgrounds in those emerging markets that they are currently scrambling to serve.
This might seem somewhat idealistic, and in today's global, complex and highly regulated business environment, a safe pair of hands with previous boardroom experience must seem like the obvious choice when you have to answer to shareholders and keep the regulators happy. However, it would be interesting to see what happens if some of our listed companies took the risk. It might be worth it.