The Burden of Responsibility on Female Board Members

Eating with colleagues A mixture of both good and bad news for female board candidates. At a recent event organised by the Professional Boards Forum, at the headquarters of mining company Anglo American PLC, some 45 outstanding female board candidates were brought together with leading chairmen with the aim of including more women in powerful positions in the UK. However, unfortunately, according to data from Boardex, a board-room networking tool, only 9% of directors of FTSE-350 companies are women. The good news is several chairmen of large corporations are wanting to redress the balance and make the number of men and women on the board more equal. Sir John Parker, chairman of Anglo American, has already attended the forum twice. "Busy chairmen are prepared to give up their time for this because it is [about] mentoring talent. And it's a great way for [the female executives] to advertise the skill sets they offer," he says. But he is not prepared to accept an ‘artificial framework’ set by a gender quota and take on someone on gender basis alone. He says ‘we should be talking about competence’. It still seems though that headhunters are sending out lists of candidates which are all male. So an event like this which was initially met with skepticism by some participants has been a pleasant surprise, with chairmen of huge companies like Vodafone and Cadbury taking part. Once on the board it is also down to women to encourage and help those following in their footsteps. However, there is pressure to support all other women, regardless of their talents and there is still a burden of responsibility for the one female board member to be the voice of the ‘female outlook’. If all eyes in the boardroom turn on the only female when a gender issue is raised the tendency is to assume that her opinion is the female view rather than purely ‘her’ opinion. Only when more women are sitting around the boardroom table and are allowed to freely express their personal view rather than the ‘female opinion’ will we have real change.

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