Why British business needs more female non-executive directors 


Women have much to offer as Neds – and much to gain – writes Victoria McLean, founder and CEO of City CV

Companies all over the UK are recognising the need to have more women working for them at the highest level. Female non-executive directors (Neds) of all ages offer them benefits of a very measurable kind – proving the business case, if it were ever needed, that such roles should no longer be dominated by men approaching retirement.

Research by campaign group 2020WOB, whose mission until this year was to increase female representation on US company boards to 20 per cent, has found that firms with women on their boards outperform those without in terms of “profitability, productivity and workforce engagement”.

Moreover, companies with strong female representation at the top level posted an average annual return on equity of 10.1 per cent versus 7.4 per cent achieved by those without, according to a 2015 study published by Morgan Stanley Capital International.

The value that women bring to a board in terms of proper checks and balances was demonstrated by research conducted in 2013 at McMaster University in Ontario. The survey of 624 board members – three-quarters of whom were men – revealed that female Neds were more likely to question courses of action proposed by their executive colleagues than to wave them through.

Times are changing, according to The Female FTSE Board Report by Cranfield University, which found that the number of female Neds in the FTSE 100 increased to an all-time high of 311 in 2019. But their tenure averaged 3.8 years versus five years for men, so there’s room for improvement here.

I see this as an opportunity for younger women to step up sooner and make their mark for longer. They are more aware than any previous generation of diversity issues and they tend to be particularly comfortable using social networks. The world is more open to young female talent than ever before.

Advice for women seeking non-executive directorships

Becoming a Ned will enable women to broaden their experience, boost their profile and, in some cases, make a difference to a cause they care about.

I’ve coached hundreds of young professionals from diverse backgrounds towards Ned roles. My advice to them never changes:

  • Stay in touch with people you enjoy working with, particularly those who share your values and could offer you advice and encouragement.
  • Network regularly, whether that’s going to formal events or just having a coffee and a chat.
  • Broaden your experience by seeking voluntary roles – a trustee or school governor, for instance – that have similar responsibilities to those of a Ned.
  • Seek out a female mentor in a board role who can share valuable insights with you.

Lastly, find out as much as you can about what’s involved. Read about the experiences of Sarah Pierce, who landed her first directorship at 25, for instance, or be inspired by the achievements of Baroness Lane-Fox. As one of the UK’s most influential women, Lane-Fox counts time on the boards of Chanel, the Women’s Prize for Fiction, M&S, Channel 4, the Donmar Warehouse, the ScaleUp Institute and Twitter among her Ned roles.

The IoD offers members guidance for improving the representation of women on boards. If you’re looking to apply for such a role, Women on Boards advertises board positions and runs networking events.

About author

Victoria McLean

Victoria McLean

Victoria McLean is CEO of City CV which she founded in 2008

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