Are Women reluctant to take on paid non-executive director roles?


Dr Spinder Dhaliwal

Lord Davies’ suggestion to have 25% non-executive director  (NED) women on Boards in FTSE 100 companies by 2015 has been successful to some degree but more needs to be done to get women going for paid NED roles. The majority of business leaders now recognise gender diversity as a performance driver but many are still slow to react. Britain lags behind its European counterparts with Norway and Spain having made significant progress and France and Italy stepping up with quotas for women. Australia too is further ahead in the gender stakes.

It seems that women are not putting themselves forward for paid Non-Executive positions as much as men. Many focus first on the voluntary, charity or education sectors even though the level of governance is crucial for all roles. It is common to find women as school governors. They shy away from paid NED roles wanting to build up their experience, whereas men go for it from the start of their Non-Executive career. So why are women so reluctant?   They want to give back to society. They want to use their skills and experience in different areas but they seem hesitant taking remuneration for their service.

Is the very nature of the desire for a NED role different for men than it is for women?

Women could do well to use their skills and go for paid NED roles. The benefits to them are enormous. They can use their skills and experience in another setting, thus widening their horizons doing something productive in an area that is not your normal workplace. As a Non-Executive you will rub shoulders with people at the top of institutions and gain a breadth of experience in a short time. This would help with your day job too, and raise your profile setting you up for a future portfolio career if you so desire.

The boardroom is where strategic decisions are made and requires high calibre individuals who together offer a mix of skills, experiences and backgrounds. The role of NEDs continues to evolve as the business environment is becoming more demanding and faster paced. NEDs need to be more agile bringing independence, impartiality, specialist knowledge and personal qualities to the Board.

They must ask challenging, often difficult questions on behalf of the shareholders or other stakeholders. They must possess strong interpersonal and communication skills. They should be ready to listen, but also prepared to speak up when appropriate. Women are well placed to meet all these requirements and should expect to be remunerated. For real change to take place in the boardroom and beyond, we not only need more women on boards but more women who are paid for their talent.

Dr Spinder Dhaliwal
Westminster Business School
University of Westminster