Coddington on tokenism

Deborah Coddington writes in the HoS:

And what this census doesn’t reveal is how many women turn down requests to sit on boards as company directors.

Maybe they are smarter than men, and don’t wish to expose themselves, under the Companies Act 1993, to the legal and reputation risks when a corporate curdles from the heat and shareholders cast around for someone to blame.

Feminism, to a liberal, is not equality of numbers just to please the Human Rights Commission.

Equality is about freedom of choice. So long as women can choose to be directors of public companies, or run their own successful companies – such as Trilogy – or even eschew the red-tape hassles, Inland Revenue nightmares, staffing problems and opt to be an employee, then we shouldn’t fret.

I partially agree with Deborah, but not totally.

First of all I should state that I’ve served under four different board chairs on two different boards which I am or was a non-executive director or. All four Chairs were female, and I’ve actually learnt a lot about governance from them.

Directorships are not quite like other jobs. While some companies do undertake a public recruitment process for directors, other do operate very much on an invitation basis, and it comes down to whom the existing directors know.

So I don’t think the lack of women on commercial boards is just because women want to avoid the liability that comes with directorships. I think the “old boys” network is an issue. But I also note that more and more women are undertaking IOD company director courses.

And is there anything to suggest women on their boards would improve things? Might just as well put blow-up dolls around the board table.

I’m adamantly against any quotas, but boards work well if they have a diversity of experience and knowledge. And it is a fact of life that overall women and men respond differently to various stuff. You often have different marketing strategies for female and male customers. So having no women on your board, may mean a valuable perspective is lost.

But I do agree with Deborah that often part of the problem is women not putting themselves forward. In the political realm, some groups complain that women only make up around 35% of Parliament.

But I don’t think that this is because NZers are reluctant to vote for women. I think it is because relatively fewer women seek political office.

It would be interesting to see some stats on what percentage of nominees (those seeking candidacy) in the major parties are women, what percentage of candidates are women, and compare that to the percentage of MPs that are women. This would help ascertain whether the under-representation is because women do not seek nomination, or because they do not gain a candidacy or whether they do not get elected.

I’ve done a quick analysis of the 2008 election. In the 70 electorate contests, I’ve looked at the genders of the winner and runner up. In 34 seats they were both male. In just five they were both female. Of the 31 seats where they were of different genders, 17 had the male candidate win and 14 the female candidate.

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