Elizabeth Jameson, Founder and Managing Director at Board Matters, admits she was once against quota systems but now believes they are critical to establishing gender parity. “It increasingly amuses me when people who are threatened by the idea of quotas or even targets say it should be based on merit alone,” she said.
“If that were true, we wouldn’t be in the position we are in today.” “I would love for the gender gap to be closed by leaving it to natural forces because all the evidence shows that having women on boards produces better results, but the glacial pace of change flies in the face of that.” “I would like to see targets set for boards to have at least 40 per cent of each gender on them. With that approach, it won’t be a problem for boards to get to a place where there is real gender balance.”
Elizabeth points to her own journey as an example of how inherent bias – conscious or otherwise – has impacted the career trajectory of herself and the women she graduated law school with. “When I came out of law school, 50 per cent of the graduates were women and we went into good positions with good firms. The firm I joined had about 30 partners, and about four of them were women. “I was told then, and that was 30 years ago, that gender parity was only a matter of time. But if you look at the percentages of women in partnerships in law firms, the numbers haven’t changed.”
And the effect of this is cumulative. Elizabeth explains that when companies are looking to appoint board members who have been in senior management or were principals or partners in law firms, women have not risen through the ranks enough to be considered for these roles. “I am not seeing a great change in the number of women in executive teams and partners and that is very sobering.”
Elizabeth says that while the participation of males in the movement for equality is essential, it may be a difficult task to get them on board. “It is a fairly fundamental aspect of human nature that those with power and control to not give it up and will have a vested interest in things not changing. That will be the real challenge.”
Read Robin Francis’s thoughts on the gender pay gap, here.