Thursday, 15 March 2012

Female Representation and Quotas.

Kay Adams, BBC Radio Scotland
It was the Call Kaye show on Radio Scotland that got me thinking.  The episode on 8th March, International Woman’s Day (or as I like to call it to tease Mrs V., International Female Comrades’ Day) and the topic was quotas for the FTSE 100 companies when it came to female representation, should they have quotas in the boardroom?  Apparently in Norway they have introduced a forty percent quota for board-level female representation, with companies simply having to obey the law.  This compares with the current situation - fifteen percent of directors of FTSE100 companies are woman.

Hold on, I thought to myself.  We Liberal Democrats are not exactly shining when it comes to women representation in Westminster.  In the parliament prior to 2010, fifteen percent of our MPs were female but in 2010 this fell to twelve percent.  Part of this is undoubtedly an artefact of the rotten voting system: our percentage of the overall vote rose but the total number of our MPs actually fell from 63 down to 57.   Even allowing for this, the figures are not good.  The party is addressing the issue with a new Leadership scheme which is special training not only for women but for all minorities in the party.  As a middle-aged white guy I naturally do not qualify to take part so there is already positive discrimination taking place.  The key question though is “is it enough?”  I think the answer is “no”.

I forget who the guests were on the radio show but these learned ladies reckoned that at the current rates it would take seventy years for parity of representation to be reached.  I am certain that we all agree that is nowhere near good enough.  The Norwegian scheme was criticised for been too much too soon.  In order to conform to the law, it was alleged that some companies had to create previously non-existing posts, effectively as window dressing.  One problem that they identified that there currently is not enough women currently in middle-management.   It seems to me that both politics and business have a shared problem.

My suggestion therefore is this.  Instead of having a radical jump towards quotas, introduce them in stages.  For instance, if among publically-listed companies the average board representation is fifteen percent, the first step should be to twenty five percent.  After five years that increases to thirty five percent and at ten years up to the maximum of forty five percent – actually higher than the Norwegian total and it would give time to large companies to recruit and train the necessary numbers of females for the right posts.  Here’s the rub though – political parties but most especially the Liberal Democrats should be doing the same.  If legislation was introduced before the 2015 election, we would have effective parity of representation by 2025, both in the boardroom and in parliament.

Liberal Democrats will be seen to be practicing what we preach and, it could be said, this turkey is voting for Christmas.  Or as I prefer, trying to make life fairer for all.

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