Still too few women in boardrooms
It’s the ultimate corporate governance conundrum — is it better to have a token woman in the boardroom, than no woman at all?
Kim Willey, ASW Law senior counsel, posed the question last month at the ASW Law International Women’s Day Harbourside Chat and Breakfast at the Royal Hamilton Amateur Dinghy Club in Paget.
Her own answer was “yes”.
“I would take a token woman over no woman at all and I’d be very happy to be in that role and feel confident in my qualifications,” she said.
She told The Royal Gazette in a token situation, there may be issues with women being taken seriously, but if there are no women, there’s no chance of it.
“You have to start somewhere,” she said.
Today, according to Deloitte’s website, women hold just 12 per cent of boardroom seats worldwide with only 4 per cent chairing boards.
Susan Pateras, chief operating officer, Bermuda, of Liberty Special Markets, said she is often the only female in the boardroom.
“I think that is typical, not just for insurance, but in Fortune 1000 companies generally,” she said. “I have been in the insurance business for over 23 years. And it has clearly been shown to be a male-dominated business sector.
“It doesn’t mean that there are not opportunities. I think that my journey through the ranks is proof that it is possible.
“But when I am in a meeting, does everyone look like me? No. The higher you go, in that funnel of talent, women executives start to drop off.”
Ms Pateras said part of the problem lies in the way that people are recruited for board positions.
“It is not really that someone is making an effort to deter the number of women in that seat, but they are not actively looking for it,” she said. “You tend to bring people with you through a journey that you are comfortable with.”
She said sometimes women may have to work a little harder to develop affinity networks that allow them to network and find opportunities.
She worried that quotas might not turn the dial fast enough for change. By some estimates, it will be 50 years before women achieve full equality in the corporate world.
Ms Pateras thought things might happen more organically if more people understood that having a diverse board actually improves the company’s bottom line.
Cheryl Hayward-Chew, chairwoman of Polaris Holding Company Ltd, said: “How will you know who your competition or potential customers are if you don’t have a diversified board?”
Kim Wilkerson, regional head of claims at Axa XL, agreed.
“It’s not about having women for the sake of having women,” she said. “It is recognition that the data show that companies with more diversified boards are in fact more successful.”
When she attended the New York Insurance Forum 2019 last month, the gender imbalance was brought home in the restrooms, of all places.
“There was a long line for the men’s room, snaking around the corner,” she said. “There was no line at all for the women’s room. We women were able to just go right in. We were all commenting on it.”
In the last decade, many countries have implemented gender quotas, either encouraging or demanding, that companies have a certain proportion of women in leadership positions.
In 2011, the French government mandated that women make up 40 per cent of all boards of companies listed on the country’s CAC 40 stock market index by the end of 2017.
According to Fortune magazine, 44.2 per cent of French company directors are now female, the highest proportion in the world.
Ms Willey said compared to a number of other countries she has worked in, Bermuda does pretty well at recognising the need for diversity, particularly gender diversity.
“That being said, it is still not 50:50 by any means,” she said. “This is such an important global conversation. We still have work to do.”
Bermuda has no mandated gender quotas, but the Bermuda Monetary Authority’s code of conduct for insurance companies says boards need to be diverse, but leaves it up to the companies to act on that.
“It is very soft,” Ms Willey said.
She said the result of mandated quotas is often a wider pool of applicants, and a more formalised recruitment process.