Does the financial industry need gender quotas?

David Harvey our consultant managing the role

Should FTSE 100-listed finance firms introduce mandatory gender quotas in order to increase the number of women on their boards, or would this smack of tokenism and not allow for the organic development of gender diversity?

It's an argument that can be heard in staff-rooms and canteens across the financial services industry, with the topic often proving somewhat emotive.

There is no doubt gender diversity has improved in the UK over the last few decades, but the financial services sector remains largely dominated by men, particularly at the top level.

In the latest Financial Director/Accountancy Age online debate, 24 per cent of respondents voted for the implementation of targets, while 76 per cent felt sponsorship programmes and other measures would be preferable.

Frances O'Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Centre (TUC), wrote in favour of mandatory targets, suggesting the corporate world would be "a far better place" if boards were to become more diverse and reflective of modern society.

"I don't believe for a minute that all of the middle aged, white men who currently make up the majority of this country's boards were appointed because they were better than all other women in the field," she added.

Quotas are simply a way of levelling the playing field and allowing women to compete fairly with men, concluded the TUC chief.

However, her suggestion was challenged by others taking part in the debate, with KPMG partner Melanie Richards suggesting that a quota would only provide a "quick fix" rather than addressing the structural and developmental issues facing financial services firms.

Ms Richards is a founding member of the 30 Per Cent Club Steering Committee, which hopes to drive economic growth through increasing diversity.

The organisation comprises a group of chairmen committed to increasing the number of women on FTSE 100 boards - they are currently 19 per cent female on average. It hopes to influence policy by engaging with the media and speaking at schools and universities.

11/04/16
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