Gender diversity on corporate boards

Mar 28, 2017
<p>Kate Ferry of Dixons Carphone explains why encouraging diversity makes good business sense</p>

This article was produced by ELITE Connect and originally published on the ELITE Connect platform

There’s no doubt that the issue of equality ‒ whether it be ethnicity, sexuality, disability or gender – is at the forefront of many companies’ HR strategies. Looking specifically at gender, Kate Ferry, IR, PR & corporate affairs director at Dixons Carphone and a member of the executive board and committee, gives her views on gender representation on boards and shares her experiences as a senior businesswoman in IR.  

ELITE Connect: Do you feel there is now a better level of gender equality on boards than seen in previous years?

Kate Ferry: An increasing number of companies appear to be addressing gender equality on boards and in leadership positions. The UK has definitely made progress over the past few years and in 2016 the proportion of board seats held by women stood at 26 percent. As a point of comparison, in the US, women currently hold only 19 percent of board positions.

EC: What is driving gender equality on boards? Is it seen as important within companies to achieve a good balance?

KF: We’re certainly seeing more opportunities open to women, which could be due in part to more emphasis on work-life balance, flexible working options, improved technology and more female role models. The media, politics and pressure groups may also have an influence.

Increasing numbers of companies are actively nurturing their female talent and putting measures in place to support their development throughout their careers to senior level – Dixons Carphone does this with mentors. The progression of technology and Smart working policies such as ours without doubt helps this, as it is no longer an either/or option for women ‒ for example, you can pick the kids up and still get your work done remotely, tailoring your work pattern to suit both the business needs and your family needs.

Role models are hugely important and having Katie Bickerstaffe (who works four days a week) as our UK CEO is inspirational to everyone, right across the shop floor, warehouse and head office. 

EC: In your experience, is gender equality on boards important to investors, and why?

KF: The investment case for more diverse boards shouldn’t be because it is the right thing to do but because it makes good business sense. Women bring diverse perspectives to the table, their leadership style can drive more innovation and collaboration, and they often take a different approach to risk. There’s a growing body of empirical evidence showing that diverse boards encourage better decision-making and governance and, ultimately, increased corporate performance for both companies and their shareholders. It is important to stress that it is not that women or men are ‘better’ but that diverse groups ‒ where both men and women are at the table ‒ make better decisions than non-diverse groups. 

EC: Have you seen any recent changes or trends in gender representation on boards?

KF: We have seen a rise in interest and inquiries about gender equality at director and board level. We take the view that the right people get the roles regardless of gender – and if you speak to our senior women they are proud of that. Effectively creating and cultivating an active pipeline of female candidates is arguably the single most important element of a successful board-inclusion effort.

EC: What’s your personal outlook on board gender inclusion?

KF: I personally believe the right decision is to always hire the most capable person for the job, regardless of whether that person is male or female, and I am not a fan of legislative targets and quotas. As a senior businesswoman, I have never felt that an opportunity wasn’t open to me because I am a woman and I genuinely believe there is a level playing field today. The role companies must play is helping women fulfill their potential by supporting them through some of the other factors at play (the biggest being having children) so that more women stick it out and make it to the top.

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