Dr Jude Browne declines to answer a simple question

My warm thanks to the six supporters and donors who came out on a chilly evening yesterday to attend Dr Jude Browne’s talk on quotas for corporate boards at Cambridge University. It was predictably dreary stuff, and I didn’t detect so much as one sentence suggesting that differences in gender outcomes might be the result of gender-typical choices. Her ‘solution’ to the gender ‘problem’ on boards was to have major companies monitor gender balance at every level, and where there was an apparent failure of one gender to advance, the company would be required to justify it. She specifically mentioned the layer beneath the corporate board. If implemented it would be at considerable cost to companies, but on the bright side it would doubtless provide employment for thousands of professional grievance collectors feminists.

The Q&A session lasted only 15 minutes but I managed to introduce myself to the audience (about 200 people, I’d say), said a few words about J4MB and C4MB, and made the point that I could scarcely believe a talk could be given on the topic in question without mentioning Catherine Hakim’s Preference Theory.

I then asked Dr Browne the question we sent her in an email almost two weeks ago. Her lips pursed at this point, I’m pleased to report. We’d sent her the evidence showing that increased female representation on boards leads to corporate performance decline, then posed this question:

If the evidence shows that increasing female representation on boards leads to corporate financial decline, would that be a price worth paying?

She may be a political theorist but her reply was worthy of the most evasive politician. She spoke for two or three minutes, and still didn’t answer the question. I put my hand up to ask it again but wasn’t given the opportunity by the (male) Pro Vice Chancellor who was chairing the meeting.

Afterwards we managed to hand out about 100 flyers:

131029 (two pages) handout for Cambridge presentation

A substantial number of women (and a few men) who looked like they’d been sucking on lemon slices refused to accept the document.

4 thoughts on “Dr Jude Browne declines to answer a simple question

  1. “have major companies monitor gender balance at every level”

    How long will it be before we can expect to see more female refuse collectors, sewage workers, welders and forklift truck drivers etc.? Never…?

  2. Obviously I am right behind you with my opinions on quotas – they do not achieve equality they achieve numerical parity which is not the same thing. I am just conscious of the way things are worded publicly and wondering whether we can make it more obvious what we stand for, accepting that not everyone will read our documentation and indeed in some cases will wipe their nose on it.

    I recently had a debate with a friend of mine about this very subject, which all got a bit heated ultimately. She favoured quotas on the grounds that despite legislation being in place, women still weren’t getting into positions of seniority in significant numbers and still suffer a pay gap; I on the other hand believe that merit alone should determine promotion and that the paygap is largely due to personal choices. She was unimpressed when I suggested that the reasons for this are down to women’s personal choices (areas they choose to work, choosing to take time off for children etc) and that these choices had two main outcomes: Smaller female talent pool at the top of big corporations and women missing out on experience and therefore not necessarily doing equal work to men of the same age (therefore pay is also not equal). But I think where her argument really fell down was when I asked her a simple question. If a company employs 100 people and has a board of 10, what would the ideal board representation be if the 100 employees belonged to the following demographics:

    There is a 50/50 male female split with the following sub-divisions within each gender:
    25 are white and heterosexual
    5 are white and homosexual
    7 are black and heterosexual
    3 are black and homosexual
    5 are asian
    5 are oriental

    I never really got an answer. My answer was that the board should be comprised of the most experienced and best qualified people to do those jobs in order to maximise effectiveness and, by extension, increase profits.

  3. Thanks for your comment. From our flyer last night, halfway down the first page:

    ‘C4MB believes the key explanation for corporate financial decline has been, and continues to be, the inexperience of the women being appointed to boards, rather than their gender.’

    The whole POINT of quotas is to drive up the numbers of people from a given cohort of people REGARDLESS of individual merit i.e. to force companies to appoint people who, given a choice in the matter, they wouldn’t. Why, you might well ask, is the government not threatening quotas for black people or people of Asian extraction if the FTSE100 hasn’t achieved (at a guess) 5% representation of these groups by 2015? Or (again, at a guess) 5% representation of physically or mentally disabled people? Because these groups aren’t utterly shameless in pursuing their self-interest. I started my business career, I suspect, before Dr Jude Browne was born. In 30 years in the business sector I never once saw a man decline to recruit or promote a woman on account of her gender. The supporter who made the donation said the same was true of his 35 years in the business sector.

  4. I’d like to make a suggestion as to the wording of the question that we are using to challenge gender diversity on corporate boards. I am assuming that we oppose enforced quotas on corporate boards (or in any other area of employment) rather than outright opposing women themselves being in positions of seniority within the business world. That being the case would the question not be better worded thus:

    “If the evidence shows that enforced gender quotas on boards for the purpose of increasing female representation therein leads to corporate financial decline, would that be a price worth paying simply to achieve parity of numbers?”

    The reason I say this is because there is no evidence to suggest that women themselves are the cause of the financial decline, more rather that the quotas themselves simply lead to a decline in financial performance. I suspect that were a similar exercise to be trialled with ethnic minorities that the same or similar results would appear because a quota encourages promotion of staff based on genetic characteristics rather than ability. Ultimately this means that businesses do not get to pick the best qualified people for all roles, in some cases they can only pick the best qualified woman. Our current wording sounds a tad confrontational and, dare I say it, sexist. It sounds very much like we are suggesting that women can never equal men in business acumen when what I believe we are saying, or trying to say, is that businesses should be free to promote on merit alone to ensure that they have the most best qualified staff in the right roles to make the business as effective as it can be.

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