Page last updated at 23:04 GMT, Monday, 29 September 2008 00:04 UK

Women still outside the boardroom

By Peter Day
Presenter, In Business, BBC Radio 4

It is time for British women to use the law to gain more representation in company boardrooms, according to leading academic Lynda Gratton.

A group of faceless men around a boardroom table
LBS research shows mixed teams outperform male-only groups
The call by the London Business School (LBS) professor comes after the recent legal moves by parliament in Norway to insist that public company boards of directors must have be at least 40 percent female.

The law, which was passed six years ago, finally came into effect at the start of this year.

A recent report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission - Sex and Power 2008 - showed that women hold only 11 percent of the directorships in Britain's top 100 stock market-quoted companies, a percentage that has barely increased in recent years.

Several other European countries are poised to follow the Norwegian move.

Glass ceiling

Professor Gratton is Professor of Management Practice at LBS, and director of the School's Lehman Centre for Women in Business. She told BBC Radio 4's In Business programme that action was needed.

"I believe that the UK government should bring in quotas just as the Norwegian government has done," she said.

"What we need is young women to start campaigning and be really clear about what is going to happen to them unless they do something about it. And the Government has to bring in quotas."

There is a huge bunch of talented women whose voice is not heard in the boardroom
Professor Lynda Grattan
Professor Grattan said that her MBA students tend to believe that the path to the top has been cleared for them by Germaine Greer and other 20th century feminists:

"They think they can just sail up to senior executive positions.

"We have to tell them : if you think that we broke the glass ceiling for you, we didn't. It is just as much there as it always was."

This is despite the fact that many women are seeking active support to try to improve their career prospects in big organisations.

Profesor Gratton continued: "One of the things people say to us is : 'We're doing so much to get women to the top'.

"Absolute rubbish! What organisations are doing is to ask women to network with each other. And I'm afraid that does not get you to the top of a company."


London Business School research on gender and teamwork shows that the lowest performing teams are those that are made up of just men. The second lowest are the ones that are made up of just women, and the highest are fifty percent men/women.

"All the research shows that if women are represented at serious positions the organisation flourishes," argued Lynda Gratton.

"What it means for the UK economy is that we're not doing as well as we could be simply because there is a huge bunch of talented women whose voice is not heard in the boardroom."

In Business, BBC Radio 4 on Thursday, 2 October at 2030 BST.

Lynda Gratton does not understand why women are not more angry about all of this.

"We really should be. A recent piece of research showed that when organisations flourish and give bonuses, most of that bonus money goes to men," she said.

She believes some women are not interested in quotas because they do not like the idea of being singled out for token representation. Many others say the top positions in companies are simply not worth striving for.


Lynda Gratton asked one of her talented group of LBS women last year how many wanted to be CEOs. Only one said yes. But when asked who wanted to start their own business, every woman raised her hand.

"Women are starting their own businesses, but actually we need them on UK boards," she said.

"In all our research we have found only two differences between men and women. First, women do most of the domestic labour at home; and secondly they get paid 20 percent less than men: those are the only differences."

"Next year we are going to run a course where we actually talk about quotas..where we run the debate.

"We have to talk about quotas in the UK; they have been very successful in Norway; Spain is moving towards it. We are just the laggards."

In Business is on BBC Radio 4 on Thursday, 2 October at 2030 BST. Or listen again on the BBC iPlayer or subscribe to the In Business podcast.

'Support for working mums falls'
06 Aug 08 |  Business
Smashing the glass ceiling
11 Jan 08 |  Business


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