Decoding why women are so woefully misrepresented in business. Here are my responses to FTSE 350 execs.

Outrage in response to the excuses of FTSE 350 companies for their lack of senior female colleagues, as revealed in the Department for Business’s report, has been widespread.

The beliefs and assumptions that women are not fit for the board appear to be deeply rooted and intrinsic to business and boardroom culture. So much so I wonder whether when answering questions as to why so few women occupied senior positions, the executives of these top UK firms didn’t bat an eyelid or hesitate in their responses in recognising the absurdity in their reasoning.

Perhaps we ought to commend their honesty(?!).

But we’ve got angry – bewildered, saddened. Now it’s time to get – not even – equal. Let’s take a practical approach to dispelling these beliefs:

 “I don’t think women fit comfortably into the board environment”

This is a classic case of reverse psychology, which can otherwise be read as: “I don’t feel comfortable with the presence of a woman on the board.” Why?

At the same time, if this is the perception of the board, surely we must be asking: “What is it about the board environment that makes women feel uncomfortable?”

“Most women don’t want the hassle or pressure of sitting on a board”

There is an undercurrent of control masquerading as care in this statement; the belief that their best interests are at heart in not providing an opportunity to be a member of the board – it’s far too stressful after all.

This statement also invites more questioning: Have they been asked? Have they been given the opportunity to do so?

“There aren’t that many women with the right credentials and depth of experience to sit on the board – the issues covered are extremely complex”

Insight and understanding are affirming, and sharing of knowledge empowers individuals. Describing issues as “complex” is a means to withhold information and alienate individuals; they don’t need to know, they won’t understand. Simply put, the door to the boardroom is not open to female colleagues because their access to knowledge has been restricted and information withheld.

“My other board colleagues wouldn’t want to appoint a woman on our board”

Passing the buck or an inability to challenge/fear of challenging the status quo?

“We need to build the pipeline from the bottom – there just aren’t enough senior women in this sector”

A fair point. We do need to invest in providing opportunities for all in the workplace, in all disciplines and in all industries. And that goes back to grass-root level, access to education and to eradicate the internalisation of gendered roles in the workplace.

Where do we go from here?

In The Guardian’s coverage of this report, Amanda Mackenzie, chief executive of Business in the Community, was quoted as saying the responses “read like a script from a comedy parody, but it’s true. Surely we can now tackle this once and for all”. A key means for doing this is to begin picking apart these reasons for a lack of gender diversity in senior roles, reading between the lines and challenging these responses by simply asking “Why?”

Link to original article here

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