Jean Rogers TUC speech
16 March 2012
JEAN ROGERS EQUITY
Some years ago I came across a cartoon in Private Eye. It showed a Board room. There was a large table with 5 men sitting at it. The man at the head of the table was obviously the Chairman. To his right sat a woman, a pair of spectacles, notebook and pen in hand, a quizzical look on her face. The caption read
“What a very good idea Miss Triggs. Perhaps one of the gentlemen would like to propose it.”
Somewhat far fetched would you not say?
Deutsche Bank boss Josef Ackermann, acknowledging last year that no women currently served on his bank's board, gaily commented that a woman's presence on it might make meetings "prettier and more colorful".
This didn’t go down too well. His bank was anxious to downplay the incident referring to Ackermann's words as "old school" comments – since his remarks only serve to trivialize what is a serious business issue raging across Europe - that only 12% of positions on boards are occupied by women.
In these difficult economic times, the case for getting more women on company boards has never been stronger. Our sisters in influential positions know this and are arguing for change.
The EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding, mentioned by our German colleague from the ETUC Cladia menne yesterday, her view is that a more feminine approach to leadership could transform the fortunes of big business. She believes women are more diligent, and more risk averse than men and that we cannot afford to leave out 50% of our population.
In fact, did you know that the operating results of companies which have a better gender balance on their boards are 56% higher than those that do not, according to a recent study.
"The financial crisis may have turned out differently,” she said, “ if there had been more Lehman sisters instead of brothers.”
“Women are much clearer than men: have short and efficient meetings and see no need to discuss things until midnight,” she said. “They say what they will do and they do what they say.”
Did you see Question Time early last week? The talented singer Will Young said he was in favour of positive discrimination to get more women into prominent positions in what he considers to be a patriarchal society, which makes life difficult for women, who he rates highly, believing men are babies.
The writer Will Self said women will always find it difficult to take their proper place in society whilst the problem of adequate and reasonably priced child care is not addressed.
But how can it be when those kind of important issues are ignored by governing bodies which are predominantly male, and who leave all that child care bother, to the ladies!!!!
In her address last year to European business leaders Ms Reding stopped short of supporting mandatory quotas on boards, which other European Union member states like Spain, and most recently France, have imposed.
However, she did point to the example of Norway, the first country to introduce a quota for women on boards in 2003, since when the number has reached 40% in 2008 as required by law.
In Norway, which is not a member of the EU, companies are dissolved if they do not respect the quota rules.
Now, as we know female quotas are a controversial approach and there has been much in the news about it this week. They are presently opposed by the British Government as well as by many women who think success should be based on merit, not as part of a quota. But the patience of many women is wearing thin and they think it is time to act like Norway in order to achieve positive results, stressing that at present rates it will take 40 years to reach equality on boards.
This motion calls on the TUC to mount a campaign to find ways to address this chronic underrepresentation. Important decisions which effect our ordinary day to day lives are made in board rooms.
For me there is no co-incidence that the record is particularly bad on the boards of banks. The recent financial crisis most definitely cannot be laid at the feet of women and women need to ensure it does not happen again.
If women are to be allowed to reach their full potential, if families are to be given the support they need against violence, affordable and accessible child care, fair and equal pay, it can only come through a proper balance of gender on Boards where these important decisions are taken.
Sisters, we are bored with male dominated boards. Trade unionism is about solidarity whether male or female. It is time women are given the chance to bring some common sense to the table.