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ICAS: Gender quotas should be last resort

13 Dec 10

Onus must be on company boards and recruitment firms to fill gender gap, says institute

Recruitment firms and head hunters need to be more imaginative when providing a company with a list of suitable candidates, according to the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS).

In its response to the Department for Business Innovation & Skills (BIS) survey on ‘Women in Boards’, the Institute argues it is primarily the responsibility of recruitment firms, chairmen and company boards to work together in tackling gender imbalance at board level and other senior positions.

Currently, only 12.2 per cent of directors at FTSE 100 level are female. The Institute further believes that business leaders need to take more responsibility in creating a level internal playing field for both male and female staff.

While not ruling out the introduction of a Government-set quota system in the future, ICAS argues management should first be encouraged to set their own appropriate targets for more female participation and publicly comment on how they are meeting the targets.

David Wood, Executive Director of Technical Policy at ICAS, said: ““There is a perceived tokenism aspect to the introduction of a regulatory quota system, which we do not think will be widely welcomed. All board members must be there on merit and on the contribution they make to the board. While introducing an arbitrary quota system would address the simple number balance of female representation on boards, we do not believe this ultimately provides an effective long-term sustainable solution.”

Wood added: “The ‘best person for the job’ principle should prevail, but in identifying that job and putting together the job description, company chairmen should be mindful of the need for diversity on the board. There is little point in having a board of like minded individuals. What is needed is a mix of board members of different cultures, backgrounds and gender, who look at issues in different ways and can provide suitable challenge to each other, and therefore come to decisions and solutions which have been rigorously assessed and discussed.”

The Institute recognises that, in some cases, it is a matter of personal preference for many women in stopping at a certain rung of the career ladder. However, Wood contends there should not be a lack of opportunity for those women who have the necessary drive, determination and ability; citing the considerable challenges which still exist, particularly in male dominated non-executive positions.

ICAS has also recommended to BIS that there should be greater publicity for women who currently occupy senior business positions, to act as role models to others; a more robust and transparent system for the appointment of non-executive directors; and the introduction of a formalised and recognised mentoring programme for women, which could pay particular attention to the role of non-executive directors.

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