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Editor’s blog: Why the Davies Report won’t make much difference to gender equality at work

Typical. Send a man to do a woman’s job. In this case, Lord Davies, who was asked by the government to examine the low percentage of women on the boards of British businesses and has, in his findings, not recommended quotas – as was feared – but instead given guidance on how many women businesses should aim to have on their boards in two and four years.

A whole lot of guff, hyperbole, spin and complete crap has been written about the topic of female representation in business. The commentary on Lord Davies’s report has generated a handsome contribution in its first 24 hours of publication. Longstanding claims of outright sexism holding women back from the corridors of power abound to the extent that we’ve considered “positive” discrimination (quotas) to replace emotional responses with legally bound ones.

In the end, Lord Davies recommended that FTSE-100 chairmen “should aim for a minimum of 25 percent female representation by 2015 – and we expect that many will achieve a higher figure”. He add that chairmen of FTSE-350 companies “should set out the percentage of women they aim to have on their boards in 2013 and 2015”. FTSE-100 chairmen “should announce their aspirational goals” by September 2011, and all quoted businesses will be required to disclose annually the proportion of women on the board and in senior executive positions as well as female employees in the whole organisation. He asked the Financial Reporting Council to amend the UK Corporate Governance Code “to require listed companies to establish a policy concerning boardroom diversity, including measurable objectives for implementing the policy, and disclose annually a summary of the policy and the progress made in achieving the objectives”.

That’s something, but it doesn’t tackle what I see as the one fact guiding the way the business world, and society in general, looks at the issue. Until men have wombs, women will drop out of the workforce with increasing regularity the further up the food chain you travel. To me, that has long seemed an indisputable fact that completely eludes the guff-gathering debate on why there are so few women on the boards of British businesses.

I’ll let you into a secret that I hope will explain why I think this is the case. I speak as a 31-year-old woman professional, ten years in my trade, having started at the very bottom and risen to a reasonably senior level of management. I am not yet ready to have children, but I know that I want to at some stage and I’ve given plenty of thought to how I could progress professionally while having a family. I’ve failed to find a solution so far. Kicking ideas on the future around – perhaps be an owner of a business in another decade or a senior executive within a large business. Maybe I’d like to be an adviser to other companies at the same time. I’d certainly like to travel with work.

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