London, June 12 2019 image via ING Media

I am an international hybrid and a long-time journalist with a broad span of intellectual curiosity and a passion for ideas to help business work better, with basic human values to underpin the process.

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S&P 500: Women Represent 33% Of All New Board Appointments In 2018 - Report

S&P 500: Women Represent 33% Of All New Board Appointments In 2018 - Report

It’s always tricky to call a moment of time a point of inflection, or a ‘tipping point’, if it isn’t in hindsight. But maybe, just maybe, we are about to witness something like that. Although there might be a lot to fear about social media and the subjects it dwells on, the rise of women’s voices around gender equality and progression is not one of them. Unless you are male, possibly - but in fact the demand in the rise of voices on gender equality is not directed at men. It is directed rather, at those who fear change.

Women fighting for gender progression in business in the United Kingdom might take heart from a new report just out, from the United States.

A review of S&P 500 companies by CGLytics, the corporate governance analytics provider, reveals that in 2018 women made up 33% of all new boardroom appointments - up from 25% the previous year. As ever, it depends how you look at the numbers. The figures are up just 1% from 2017, but almost all industry sectors saw an increase of women on their boards, with financial services at 2% ahead of industrials, utilities, consumer discretionary and energy - all showing a 1% increase.

The pace of change on gender progression has often been described as ‘glacial.’

But the report says the rise in women directors in the S&P 500 boardrooms is a sign “that shareholder demands for increasing boardroom diversity are being heard and acted upon.”

An interesting finding of this research is around diversity of age. Essentially, there is none - just like Europe. “Despite calls from lawmakers and investors to appoint younger directors, the majority of appointments were of professionals between the ages of 60 and 69 and the overall age actually increased year on year” says the report.

The proportion of new appointments in the 30-49 age range decreased by 21% from 2017 to 2018, it says.

Whether we can surmise from that that people in senior positions are living longer and are just reluctant to make room for younger blood is open to debate.

See my last post on Board Talk on the state of play in the UK, where women in business are getting increasingly fed up with the notion that there is a ‘supply problem’ of suitable women for senior roles. There have been multiple initiatives to kick-start change. One just launched in London (with which I am now involved), is being brought together by Helen Pitcher, a business woman who is also Chair of a boardroom consultancy (for which I have written a Governance Watch column for some time).

For every talented woman in business to progress, it is likely - as I suggested while moderating a panel on gender diversity for women in finance at the Norwegian Embassy in London at an event at the end of 2018 - that it will need a less talented man with a long-standing role to move over.

Middle management has been repeatedly identified as a stumbling block for the progression of women in the work done in the UK on gender diversity in the last decade. Changing that is up to better HR departments, better use of data, much better recruitment, strategic planning and career development. It’s also up to senior male leadership committed to gender diversity .

Aniel Mahabier, the founder and CEO of CGLytics, which published this report on the S&P 500 said: “With the spotlight intensifying on boardroom diversity, companies appear to be paying closer attention to available female candidates in a race to bring the highest quality female directors into the boardroom. However, there is demonstrable need to supplement traditional search methods with technology driven solutions, allowing members of the board to proactively find, engage and network with potential candidates beyond their current connections and professional scope.”

But, ‘aye, there’s the rub’ - as that very British bard, William Shakespeare, wrote.

Boardroom directors of a certain age are - at least in the United Kingdom - unlikely to have those skills at the moment. Engaging “beyond current connections and professional scope” may also be an issue - but that’s about a mind-set and has nothing to do with age.

Image credit: Matt Lee on Unsplash

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