[This challenge was first made by Mike Buchanan on another website, which is no longer operational, on 28 October 2012.]
My thanks to Wilhelmina for alerting me to a discussion held on this morning’s BBC television programme Daily Politics (Europe). Among the most ideologically-driven proponents of ‘improved’ gender diversity in boardrooms are female Liberal Democrat politicians. One thinks inevitably of Lynne Featherstone MP and Jo Swinson MP. So we shouldn’t be too surprised that a Lib Dem MEP, Fiona Hall, is one of many MEPs who opposed the appointment of the Governor of the Central Bank of Luxembourg, Yves Mersch, to the executive board of the European Central Bank.
In the TV programme Andrew Neil quizzed both Paul Nuttall – an admirable UKIP MEP, and chairman of the party – and Fiona Hall. Wilhelmina emailed me the following:
Paul Nuttall said that any appointment should be made on merit and merit alone, whatever the gender of the candidate, and that clearly the best person was initially given the job, only for it to be taken from him by the diversity tsars in Brussels. Ms Hall, however, said that there was plenty of evidence along with a ‘recent survey’ that showed that companies’ / organisations’ performance improves with more women on boards, therefore the decision of the ECB to find a woman, and reject the man, was absolutely the right thing to do.
I congratulate Paul Nuttall for his clear support of meritocracy, something that’s been a feature of some of his speeches in Brussels. UKIP is notable among British political parties for its clear support of meritocracy, reflected elsewhere in its support for the return of grammar schools, once a great engine of social mobility. By comparison the Conservative party leadership is ambivalent about meritocracy, always happy to sacrifice it if for possible electoral advantage. What a change from the party when the estimable Mrs Thatcher led it.
Ms Hall is, of course, utterly wrong about ‘plenty of evidence’ supporting her position. There is no such evidence. Her ‘recent survey’ claim is a long-discredited tactic used by proponents of ‘improved’ gender diversity in boardrooms. The ‘survey’ either never materialises, mysteriously, or it’s hopelessly flawed and/or misrepresented (e.g. Catalyst, McKinsey, Credit Suisse…). And so it is that we’ve just emailed Fiona Hall firstname.lastname@example.org the following public challenge:
Ms Hall, good morning. I noted your claim on today’s Daily Politics (Europe) that a ‘recent survey’ gives support to the idea that increasing the proportion of women on boards leads to improved performance. Would you please be so good as to provide us with details of that survey? The overwhelming evidence of which we’re aware – as outlined on our website – is that increasing the proportion of women on boards leads to a decline in performance. Thank you.
Wilhelmina also queried why the normally robust interviewer Andrew Neil allowed Ms Hall to get away with speaking ‘uncorroborated tosh’. A very good question. I can’t recall a male British television or radio interviewer ever challenging the uncorroborated tosh uttered by any women – or men for that matter – in this area. I’d personally like to see Andrew Neil or Jeremy Paxman grill Sir Roger Carr, chairman of Centrica and President of the CBI, as to why he supports this initiative whilst not claiming it leads to enhanced financial performance. Indeed, I’d like to see Centrica’s major shareholders grill him on the same question.