Ah diversity. The word that flows from the pages of newspapers, twitter feeds and radios alike. It’s a hot topic and it’s about time. Plenty has happened over the past 18 months; debates, discussions and small amounts of improvement have been made. The Davies Report, the Prime Minister, Cranfield Business School, the 30% club to name but a few, have all had a part to play. However, we seem to have found ourselves at a crossroads – are we making progress or are we losing patience?
I would argue that progress is certainly being made. It may be slow and it may be painful, but it’s happening. 2011 saw a positive change in attitude and action. It saw engagement, realisation and implementation at the highest levels. At the start of 2012, the proportion of women on FTSE 100 boards stood at 15.2%. Not too shabby when you remember that the 2010 figure stood at 12.5% and 2009 at 12.2%, but change is still slow. Following on from Martin Gilbert (Chief Executive of Aberdeen Asset Manager) last year saying that increased pressure on boards by shareholders was the key to making this change happen swiftly, a group of city investors, including Blackrock and Hermes with combined AUM of over £1.7 trillion, joined forces to tackle the issue head on. They announced they were actively questioning the boards of those they invested in on diversity and corporate governance. Now the world has cottoned on to the fact that having women on the board makes good business sense, everyone is jumping on the band wagon and the wheels are slowly turning…………
But are we running out of patience? A question which naturally brings us to quotas; which would, in my mind, be a monumental error………right now. It finally feels as if the debate is gaining momentum and to slap a quota on it now seems impatient and defeatist. However, with the EU’s Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding leading the EU charge on potential implementation, it seems time and patience may be running out across the channel. The poignancy of the quota argument doesn’t seem lost on them; it just seems as if they have given up the fight. Dutch liberal MEP Ms in ‘t Veld of Brussels, pro-quotas, frankly said "I don’t think there is anyone who is really in favour of quotas. It is a necessary evil, because voluntary measures have got us nowhere.”
With the likes of Charlie Mayfield (Chairman of John Lewis), Sir Philip Hampton (Chairman of RBS) and just yesterday Karren Brady (CEO of West Ham) all stressing that men and women bring invaluably different styles of management, skills and understanding to the table, you’d be a fool not to celebrate and utilise this fact.
Quotas may be a necessary evil one day, but not right now, not when we’re just starting to make progress through sheer hard work and determination – just the way we’ve always done it!