No more excuses

women's leadership


So the Hampton-Alexander review has released the top 10 worst excuses given by FTSE350 leaders for not having women on their boards, or at least not more than one. I’m going to list them again:

  • ‘I don’t think women fit comfortably into the board environment’
  • ‘There aren’t that many women with the right credentials and depth of experience to sit on the board – the issues covered are extremely complex’
  • ‘Most women don’t want the hassle or pressure of sitting on a board’
  • ‘Shareholders just aren’t interested in the make-up of the board, so why should we be?’
  • ‘My other board colleagues wouldn’t want to appoint a woman on our board’
  • ‘All the ‘good’ women have already been snapped up’
  • ‘We have one woman already on the board, so we are done – it is someone else’s turn’
  • ‘There aren’t any vacancies at the moment – if there were I would think about appointing a woman’
  • ‘We need to build the pipeline from the bottom – there just aren’t enough senior women in this sector’
  • ‘I can’t just appoint a woman because I want to’

I guess we are supposed to be shocked, but these kind of attitudes are the ones my generation has, if they haven’t met them directly, anticipated all our working lives. But they are shocking, nevertheless, because they show how out of touch some directors still are. The world has moved on and most people – men and women – just don’t relate to this kind of dinosaur thinking. How on Earth are these people entrusted to run businesses when they do not understand the first thing about what is going on in the world around them? Shouldn’t their shareholders be a little bit worried? If they haven’t kept up with societal changes, what hope that they understand the impact of technology or all the other major turbulence that companies will have to negotiate in the next decades to stay afloat and prosper?

This kind of attitude does men no favours at all. In fact the first alert I got to the news was from a dad who was outraged. These directors should not assume male acquiescence to such attitudes. So how do we shift them?

Maybe it is a generational thing with boards stuffed with old men whose wives have given up their careers to ensure their “success”. Do we just have to wait for such thinking to become extinct? The problem is that women coming up are impatient for change. They are done with waiting.

It’s great that the review has exposed these views – coming in advance of the next interim figures on progress, let’s hope they shake things up a bit. It will bring more pressure for change from all sides – politicians, the media, shareholders, customers and more. But it will also add to the chorus of people calling for quotas on the grounds that years of pressure and reports and the like have not brought enough change. Because it is not that women are competing on a level playing field; they are clearly all but shut out of the game – and the referees don’t want to change the rules.

Do we really have to have more research making the business case for diversity? Hasn’t that point been made? There has been reams written about the structural issues that are holding women back and the gender pay audits show that it is not enough for employers to sit on their hands and not address these issues. Excuses won’t work any more; action is required.

*Mum on the run is Mandy Garner, editor of

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