The Next Boardroom Battleground – Part 1

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Anna Letitia Cook

Energising International Executives for more successful, productive, fulfilling leadership
International Executive and Holistic Success Coach | Author | Podcast Presenter | 30+ years working internationally

Gender Balance: The Next Boardroom Battleground?

New legislation makes gender balance a Europe-wide priority…

  • French bill passed (23/07/14) ‘Real equality between men and women’ (including measures addressing professional equality, parity in politics, corporate boards, government bodies, public institutions)
  • UK Lord Davies report “Women on Boards” Feb 2011, progress reports 2012, 2013, 2014 —Introduction of ’targets’ for boards of FTSE companies: minimum 25% female representation at board level by 2015.
  • Germany’s law on quotas: Germany’s biggest companies have been ordered to ensure that 30% of supervisory board positions are held by women from 2016. (law agreed 25/11/14)
  • Similar measures introduced in Norway, Italy and the Netherlands.
  • In 2013 the EU Commission said that it was considering forcing companies to increase the number of women on their boards.

So just how difficult is it finding the balance for better business? Read part 1 of this 4 part Q&A series…

Q> What are the gender balance challenges facing leaders, CEOs and corporations?

This is now a big issue but you can deal with it in a way that really benefits your business, rather than it being just an unwanted—and costly— imposition.

Maintaining a balanced, efficient – and therefore productive – workforce of men and women is the aim of any business, yet this seemingly straightforward credo is fast becoming a legal and financial minefield.

Policies that were once the sole responsibility of individual companies and their directors are now under threat from an ever increasing amount of ‘gender balance’ legislation – this includes dictating not only how many women must be employed alongside men, but at what level.

What began as a simple desire for women to enjoy equal opportunities has morphed into a veritable monster, with sweeping, statistically-driven directives all requiring extremely careful handling.

Converting the theory of gender balance into a reality where everyone wins is a task which can only be initiated at CEO level. This is where company strategy, legal position and identity/positioning in the marketplace are decided – and also where the buck stops if things go wrong.

In any times of change, it is natural to look to the leader and this is why   implementation must be addressed initially at this level; gender balance has become too fundamental an issue to risk getting it wrong.

Q> What are the main problems we must deal with?

Trying to improve gender balance short term while avoiding high risk quick fixes, implementing long term progress and yet maintaining—or better still, improving—the bottom line.

Q> What do you mean by a quick fix?

A quick fix usually is promoting someone who either isn’t competent to do the job but happens to be the right gender, or someone who perhaps is competent but doesn’t want the responsibility or isn’t interested in that particular career path.

It is very complicated, time-consuming and expensive to achieve gender balance long term and still find the best person for the job, and there’s a big risk to the bottom line if you get it wrong…

Q> So why is it such a complicated issue for leaders and CEOs? Are there a lot of potential pitfalls to take into account?

There are indeed. For one thing, they face opposition on all sides, for all aspects—for example new legislation, public opinion or their stakeholders are screaming that there should be gender balance in companies right through to the highest levels, including board level.

It can’t be denied that women get pregnant, take time off for kids, don’t think like men, don’t react in the same way and therefore could be viewed as unreliable and unavailable at critical times. These are issues which leaders and CEOs have to deal with.

Trying to apply a quick fix to the problem can result in getting below-standard people—men OR women—who don’t achieve the best results for the company, so
everyone ends up with egg on their face and the situation remains just as difficult as it is now.

The best outcome requires a short term solution—as well as a long term one—which gives good results for the company (financially and productively) and doesn’t rock the boat too much.



  • Discrimination works both ways.
  • The best person should be the one appointed to the job.
  • Climbing the corporate ladder needs dedication, hard work, perseverance
    and talent, whatever your gender.
  • Women should have an equal opportunity. This means they have to earn
    respect and promotion through their ability and that alone.
  • Having women at the highest level in a corporation improves the bottom line.
  • Men and women working together in harmony, supporting and understanding each other’s way of thinking and way of working, produces a win-win solution for all!

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