Friday, 10 February 2012


Lots of discussion about how to solve the problem of having too few women on the boards of public companies. Should there be a quota system, as there is in Norway? It would be difficult to enforce at present since nominations for board members are largely made through “ headhunters” - which means, companies specialising in Executive  Search. And the places  such companies search in are  similar big public companies, using the principle that new  recruits to boards should be at home in the world of big business. I rather think that may explain  what has gone so wrong with British industry, banking, and public life. Having spent much of my other – non-writing - working life in as a “lay member” of boards and committees, most of them quangos, I was in every case an   outsider, and to start with at least an ignorant one. And that was what made me useful to them, because I asked the questions which professionals either didn't think of or didn't feel able to pose. One chairman said that I and my questions were the grit in the oyster; irritating, unwelcome, but likely to develop into a pearl. For those simple questions – why are we doing it this way, what’s it for, how will it help, what does this mean? – often proved very hard to answer. And if you can't satisfactorily explain why you're doing something, then you shouldn't be doing it.

I can't help feeling that appointing outsiders to the boards  of banks or  public enterprises would mean that unanswerable questions are asked,  about bonuses and salaries,  early enough  in the process to make people think again. And where better to look for outsiders than amongst the women?

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