The appointment of Janet Yellen as the first female chairman of the US Federal Reserve is certainly a notable step forward. However on a wider scale female representation in high profile and high ranking roles remains strikingly low.
The corporate world appears to be still very much a mans world and under representation of women at boardroom and senior levels is a world-wide issue. Lord Davies has attempted to tackle the issue in the UK with his Government backed initiative to see more female representation at boardroom level. He has recommended that UK listed FTSE 100 companies should aim for women representing a minimum 25% of board members. His report also recommends that companies set targets for 2013 and 2015 to ensure that more talented and gifted women get top jobs in companies across the UK.
However, it remains to be seen how many companies will sign up to a commitment to improve representation of women in senior roles. Will women have to demonstrate that they are a cut above their male colleagues and exceptionally gifted in order to be considered? Will they also have to make choices that most men do not have to, ‘a family or a position on the board?’, in order to succeed.
A significant problem contributing to the under-representation of women at board level or in CEO roles is the lack of a level playing field. Women are expected to work harder and to shine much brighter than their male colleagues in order to make the grade. Most women also experience breaks in their careers when having families or juggling childcare commitments with equally demanding careers. Women with childcare responsibilities often need to be able to work flexibly. These are boundaries that their males colleagues do not face. However until companies re-examine the ways that they recruit and set their career paths for senior executives we will not see a significant change in the number of women in senior roles. Companies will also have to recognise that there is a need for flexible or agile working arrangements and be pro-active about making such arrangements available for senior roles.
There is no doubt that the battle for equality is advancing and women are making progress. But whether the battle for equality is won in this generation or the next remains to be seen and will depend on a social attitude change in the boardroom.