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Are female only shortlists helping equality or not?

Are female only shortlists helping equality or not?

28 Aug 2014 by: Laura Milne

Laura MilneEmployment lawyer Laura Milne, Founder of Lime HR, discusses the recent ECHR ruling that says all female shortlists are illegal

A recent ruling from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission has stated that the use of all-female shortlists for positions is illegal. The report was commissioned by Business Secretary Vince Cable who had hoped to implement female only shortlists to increase gender diversity in Britain’s boardrooms to achieve the EU goal of 40% females on Boards by the year 2020. Currently the level sits at just 15%, an enormous differential.

What might not be widely known, however, is that Political parties are already entitled to use this as an approach to empower more female Members of Parliament. So the question should then be - why can't we use it in business?

It’s clear that women need all the help they can get if we are to create that cultural change at board level. Frequently, cultural change can only come through initial legislative measures; something evidenced through history, time and time again.

Whilst many women may hate the idea of ‘special help’ and shortlists, it is a sad fact that unconscious (and conscious) gender discrimination is still rife in business. Positive acts are needed if we are to achieve a working world where gender balance is considered the norm.

There are, of course some positive measures available under the Equality Act 2010 and the guidance includes a range of steps that can be taken to improve gender representation on boards and the examples of lawful positive action;

  1. Reserving places for women on training courses on board leadership.
  2. Targeting networking opportunities for women.
  3. Providing mentoring and sponsor programmes, which assist in the development of female talent.
  4. Offering opportunities to women to shadow existing board members and/or observe board proceedings.
  5. Placing advertisements where women are likely to read them and encouraging a pipeline of applicants.
  6. Setting aspirational targets for increasing the number of women on boards within a particular timescale.

But is this really enough?

Research tells us companies with diverse boards will produce better performance and equality helps everyone, so we must do more to ensure women have an equal opportunity to succeed on merit in gaining board positions. Surely, this must mean more transparency and less nepotism? Failing to do so is ignoring the talent of half of our population – a nonsensical and short-sighted approach to employment and business.

In recent years the National Business Awards have recognised inspirational female leaders including Harriet Green, who won the Leader of the Year Award for turning round the fortunes on Thomas Cook; Kate Swann was honoured with the Daily Telegraph Award for a Decade of Excellence in Business for her success transforming the fortunes of WH Smith; and Ruby McGregor-Smith won Leader of the Year and the Leadership Diversity Award for her inspirational and inclusive approach at top performing FTSE 250 firm MITIE. These are all examples of successful women, who have had to break down barriers in a male orientated work place. They should be an inspiration to the younger generation and an example to their male counterparts.

With that in mind, this issue needs careful monitoring by our Business leaders, with assistance given to women and businesses alike to help achieve this aim.  

Laura Milne, Founder of Lime HR has 15 years’ experience working for some of the UK’s top employment law firms. She is at the forefront of employment law, specialising in every aspect of it including discrimination, business transfers, settlement agreements, dismissals, redundancies, and performance improvement. Lime HR is an Official Partner for the National Business Awards.

 

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