Gender quotas: Aspiring to partnership

Gender quotas: Aspiring to partnership

While compulsory gender quotas for the number of women holding board positions did not pass the EU vote on 14 November, tough new measures forcing companies to achieve a 40% female board head count by 2020, or face sanctions, did.

The government didn’t support the idea of gender quotas. Currently, the percentage of UK board positions held by women is around 16, slightly better than the EU average of 14, but far less than the 40% target. Complicating the issue is the result of a survey published in The Daily Telegraph recently which revealed that only 4% of women actually aspire to sit on the board.

The upshot of the vote last week is that companies will need to demonstrate that they are putting in place mechanisms to drive up the number of female board members and report on their progress.  But how can companies, and more to the point, partnership firms increase the percentage of women in senior positions without a quota to pull-up the numbers and without a strong push of demand from women themselves?

There is a strong business case for more women in business and professional partnerships, in particular. There is no difference technically between them and men and they have strong attributes to offer such as, empathy, strong verbal and communication skills and a more collaborative, team-orientated leadership style. Women’s rapport and relationship building skills are a significant advantage in managing relationships and more and more clients want female partners on their advisory teams.

But while clients want to work with women in senior roles, they also expect them to be there for them 24/7. While some women manage brilliantly a family life with the demands of partnership, others opt for a different work-life balance taking themselves out of the promotion selection pool.  Businesses and professional firms have several options to raise the number of female managers aiming for the board room, or associates presenting for partnership.

The first is to accommodate women who want to be both mothers and board directors/partners by encouraging part-time and remote working.