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Lancaster expert advises House of Lords on gender diversity

Professor Walby

Date: 5 July 2012

A Lancaster University professor has been giving evidence to the House of Lords as part of an investigation into how best to increase the proportion of women on company boards.

Distinguished Professor of Sociology Sylvia Walby OBE is the UNESCO Chair in Gender Research.

She was invited to be part of a panel of witnesses giving evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on the EU Internal Market, Infrastructure and Employment, as part of its inquiry into the case for EU legislation to promote gender diversity on boards.

She was one of several experts who faced questions from the Committee about the best way to improve the gender balance on Boards of Directors including whether the EU should introduce legislative quotas to achieve this.

In 2010 only 3% of presidents of the largest companies in the EU were women as were only 12% of board members. A report by Lord Davies in 2011 suggested that the greater presence of women on corporate boards was associated with the better economic performance of these companies.

The European Commission wants companies to increase the proportion of women on the board to 40% by 2020.

Professor Walby said that research on this issue had found that a change of this size and speed had never previously happened without legislation.

She said: "The only policy intervention that has increased the proportion of women on corporate management boards to 40% has been that of legally binding quotas. The evidence is that while the use of voluntary regimes has led to some increase in the proportion of women on corporate boards, the effects are significantly smaller and slower.

"In the context of the poor decision-making by the largely male boards of finance companies that has been so damaging to the rest of the economy, it is unsurprising that the public is demanding an improvement in the quality of these boards."

However, the UK Government hopes that a voluntary approach from businesses would lead to the UK seeing 25% of board positions held by women by 2015.

The inquiry will address the question of whether gender imbalance on company boards is an issue for European policymakers; and if so, what form that EU action should take.

Professor Walby was among several witnesses including : Dr Karen Jochelson, Director of Economy and Employment Programme, Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC); Scarlet Harris, Women's Officer, Trades Union Congress (TUC); Dr Annette Lawson OBE, Chair, National Alliance of Women's Organisations (NAWO); Liz Murrall, Director, Corporate Governance and Reporting, Investment Management Association; Joanne Segars, Chief Executive, National Association of Pension Funds Ltd (NAPF); and Otto Thoresen, Director General, Association of British Insurers (ABI).

Professor Walby's contribution to the House of Lords Select Committee drew on research summarised in this report:

Jo Armstrong and Sylvia Walby Gender Quotas in Management Boards (European Parliament 2012).

 

Further information

Associated departments and research centres: Centre for Gender and Women's Studies, Sociology, UNESCO Chair in Gender Research Group

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