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  • Writer's pictureJulia Reynolds

Is your name John

Allegedly there are more men named John on UK listed company Boards than there are entire women on those Boards. The caveat is that John was ranked as one of the most popular names given to male children in the UK throughout the 1950s and 60s.

Positive discrimination and quotas are not the answer or are they as so little progress is being made? Gender, race, age, social class, demographic and even profession can experience discrimination. There is not a person that we know, including ourselves that has not experienced some form of discrimination at some point in our lives. We make assumptions, both conscious and subconsciously about one another all the time and every day.

In my view the problem lies with learned behaviours, like many things in life it is what we have always done, or existed with. No gender is to blame and both genders perhaps do not help themselves. We as Homo sapiens look for things that are familiar, we are comfortable with what we know and what we can relate to, we are also territorial and tribal and look after our own, protecting our tribe and gene pool. We seek harmony and the the easiest and quickest way to establish the status quo by using up the least amount of energy.

If we can learn to embrace people who are in some way different to us, we very quickly realise that they enhance our lives by offering something different to what we already know, perhaps a different way of looking at something, a different approach, a fresh perspective. Very often by embracing what we have missing, not just skills, but approach, perspective and life experiences, we will automatically add substantially to our view of the world. As they say "travel broadens the mind".

A bright leader will acknowledge that they do not need clones of themselves. Sharing the same values, similar experiences, similar look, education and background. (Male, white skin, middle aged, plays golf, educated at x university) They realise that for their business to develop and grow they need to embrace different ways of thinking and different behaviours and life experiences. The animal instinct is to protect their tribe and gene pool and make sure they do not bring a disruptive force into their environment that could threaten their position, perhaps at worse where the Alpha Male(s) is/are overthrown.

The other perspective, that thankfully is dying rapidly as each generation comes through, is the confidence levels of one gender over another. In my first job, over 30 years ago, I started out in a lively office environment, where 90% of the staff were women. Over a period of a few years I watched the 10% rise through the ranks, like it was a given right to progress, they networked well, they stood out as the minority, we admired at best and "fancied" at worst, despite being ordinary in the big scheme of things. The other 90%, who were all equally educated or perhaps had better qualifications. I watched these women to varying degrees, depending on who they worked for, their ability and their confidence and ambition, rise up the ranks. The thing I was a aware of was how they appeared to work harder, stayed longer in the evening, took work home and perhaps tried too hard. Worked hard not smartly, but all in an endeavour to succeed. It always felt like very hard work for the women and all in a days work for the men. I look back now and most of that 10% are actively employed in the industry in heavyweight jobs and doing really well. Very few of those 90% of women are either around or holding down very senior roles. What is apparent how some of them are burnt out, or changed direction with their careers, stayed happy at a level they felt comfortable with or retired because they could. None of them are called John and none of them are sitting on Listed Company Boards.

All of the great men I have worked for over the years, acknowledge the talents, skills, commitment and tenacity of the women they work with. The same way they do for different ethnicities. They recognise that it is about the person and their talents and what they add, this just now needs to be represented on every board in the Country. Are we sometimes, as women and men, historically more critical of poor performing women in senior positions than we are of men in similar position? Is it also fair to say that some women who have made it to very senior positions believe that they either have to behave or have learned to behave with the typical characteristic traits of what we traditionally label as Victorian leadership traits or masculine traits; such as assertive, strong, autocratic, firm and in control? Fortunately for all leaders, men and women these are rapidly dying as the leadership traits of modern day businesses. What is more, generations X, Y and beyond, won't either tolerate or obey to this kind of leadership.

I once asked an Executive Chairman of a listed business, what the reasons were that he had no female representation on his board, taking into consideration that over half of his customers were women? His response was "We have a company Secretary, she is a woman and we have been trying to recruit an HR woman onto our board, but not had a lot of luck with that one" Priceless! But what is perhaps worse, he could not give me what the reasons were.

The challenge now is that Boards are focusing on having someone who understands "technology". This is because most of the generation on boards currently, do not get the so called "black art" of technology. This appears to have taken a precedence over diversity on boards, which at least is bringing some youth to some boards. I would actually argue you need both. To me the whole process for recruiting NED's in particular to boards needs to be challenged and rethought. It has been statistically proved that businesses who embrace diversity perform better. But what came first the chicken or the egg? Have these businesses out performed because of women on boards or as part of their out performance and enlightened leadership they have women on their boards?

I hear everyday from female leaders I know that they have really struggled to get even their first NED role and all of us have been told to go and do charity and voluntary roles to establish ourselves as NED's. I appreciate that relevant experience over gender is the most important thing when recruiting, but particularly where female customers make up over 50% of one's business, surely there should be these skills and understandings represented, if nothing else. The best Leaders I know recruit "disruptors" onto their boards. People who have experience from a totally unrelated business or profession, to add a completely different perspective. In large commercial businesses this could be an academic. In a public business this could be someone with a commercial background. Female representatives should not be pigeon holed into HR, Charity, Not for Profit, Company Secretary. There are lots of female accountants, lawyers, marketeers, strategists, those with commercial backgrounds and e-commerce experience. All who did better at school and college than their male peers.

So come on all you John's out there, there are lots of Mary's Jane's, Kate's, Sophie's, Fiona's Sue's, Angela's, Anna's, Karen's, Sandra', Lisa's and Debbie's out there with lots to add to all kinds of businesses. As men and women lets change British businesses. There is certainly room in the market for a recruiter and or e-commerce platform to collate names and contact details and really, truly work with women and businesses to promote the equality on boards and not pay lip service to it.

Lets hope that in 30 years time every board will be made up of Oliver's, Jack's, Harry's and Mohamed's along with Olivia's, Emily's and Amelia's. I hope I am still alive to see it.

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