22 April 2004
Many say that a woman’s creativity complements a man’s. Females approach problems differently and often come up with better solutions. Women are frequently better at such tasks as risk management, having a more natural feel for them.
Women can also adapt better to the new workplace which has been emerging over the last decade. They can accept more easily such elements as flexible or autonomous teams, which have punched holes in traditional, or more masculine, organizational structure. Research shows that companies with a good mix at the top have better corporate-governance records, and tend to lead in market capitalization.
So why then do only 27 percent of women hold top leadership positions in developed countries?
It’s no secret that females are victims of discrimination at work. They are threatened by unemployment and job insecurity more than men. They have fewer chances to make it to the highest positions of responsibility.
Among their stumbling blocks is maternity. Women themselves also say they are beset by problems such as finding a niche in masculine sectors, and feel they are less mobile generally.
These facts are starting to spur many firms, who are concerned about their lack of female directors, into starting programs which make life easier for women on the job. General Electric was among the first: in 1998, the U.S. corporation, under Jack Welch, started programs especially geared to women.
On this side of the Atlantic, Schlumberger now has fixed a 30-percent female quota for the engineers it recruits worldwide. Thirty percent of these hires must be for key positions by 2010. To make good these figures, half the firm’s recruiters will be women.
Accenture has a 'Great Place to Work for Women' program, offering maternity packages and low prices for childcare. IBM sponsors preparation for maternity leave, and its works council will facilitate hiring of babysitters. France Telecom offers individual leadership coaching programs for women. It has also changed its criteria for detecting high-potentials, after judging them discriminatory toward women.
Will these measures mean more women on boards? The number of companies offering such packages is not large. But initiatives continue.
Many see results on the horizon, since corporations desperately need leaders. Firms want to create their own internal networks or sponsorship programs and place women on them, since they feel here is where females find the best chances to succeed. Companies want to provide more flexible hours and jobs. Many say they sincerely want the rules to change, particularly where evaluation schemes are concerned. Headhunters, for their part, are eager to manage the enormous female potential that’s out there.
Some changes can already be seen. The number of women directorships in the FTSE 100 topped 100 (101) for the first time late last year. Also for the first time, two companies – AstraZeneca and Marks & Spencer, now have four female directors, and women make up one-third of their boards. Though 32 top FTSE firms still have no female directors, and there is only one CEO (Marjorie Scardino of Pearson) and female Chair (Baroness Hogg of 3i) among them, still an additional nine companies have 20 to 30 percent female representation on their boards. Total number of female directorships was up 20 percent over 2002, when 84 women directors were reported.