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In Business
Thursday 8.30-9.00pm,
Sunday 9.30-10.00pm (rpt)
Programme details 
2 October 2008
Listen to this programme in full
Peter Day
Forty Percent Female

This year Norway enshrined in law that 40% of company boards must be made up of women. Peter Day asked four years ago why the country intended to take such drastic action. Now he wonders whether where Norway goes, others will follow.
About this programme by Peter Day

Show me a British organisation that’s been damaged by not having enough women on board. You can’t. Neither can I. It is quite impossible to prove that the neglect of women in the workplace is having any impact on the way that companies (or other organisations) behave.

Would an organisation run by women be different from what we have at the moment ? Would it have a different approach to hiring and firing, different working hours, a different attitude to the bottom line? A different purpose? Again, don’t know.

But surely it stands to reason that any organisation with female customers ought to have their aspirations and ideas represented at all levels of a business; the same with other organisations, public, not for profit.

And any organisation at all ought to be able to use the brainpower of women that drains out of it at the moment.

Companies pay lip service to diversity. Bosses insist that their people are their most important asset. But the record on women seems to reinforce the impression that they are frightened of change.

Organisations are shaped and succoured by the idea of keeping the real world they operate in at bay. Outsource the bits which may come in contact with the customers. Call up the market researchers when it is time to find out what the customers might want.

Retreat into executive carparking spaces and awayday management meetings when it’s time to discuss the direction of the business. Preserve us at all costs from dirty, muddled, diverse real world. Cut off the corporation from reality.

The fact that women make up half the workforce and fail to scrabble their way up to near the top of the management tree let alone into the boardroom illustrates how effectively organisations manage to insulate themselves from the world they operate in.

Women’s lives are simply too complex to be fitted in to the rigid schemata of corporate development. Organisations are too rigid to cope with the women problem; they can’t find a way of dealing with time off for families and flexible working and (heaven help us!) job sharing.

As a result, an unquantifiable amount of human talent is wasted. And the men who run business don’t even notice.

Every four or five years I make an In Business programme about the glass ceiling.

Every time I am assured that this pernicious and invisible block on women getting to the top is about to be shattered : yes it’s been there, but now it’s not, is the cry.

Wrong wrong wrong. It is not happening (see above).

Surely it is now time to take some real action, to do what Norway has just spent six years preparing for a legal requirement that company boards of directors to be at least 40 percent female by a future deadline.(It was January 1st 2008 in the case of the Norwegians).

Then we will have a chance to see what we’ve been missing by not having enough women on board.

Professor Lynda Gratton,
Centre for Women in Business at London Business School

Nicola Brewer,
Chief Executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission

Elin Hurvenes,
Founder & Director, Professional Boards Forum

Ole Jacob Sunde,
Chairman, Schibsted

Eli Saetersmoen,
Professional Board Member in Norway

Ana Maria Llopis,
Prominent Spanish businesswoman.

Harriet Harman,
Minister for Women and Leader of the House of Commons

Peninah Thomson,
Executive Coach, Praesta Partners
About In Business

We try to make ear-grabbing programmes about the whole world of work, public and private, from vast corporations to modest volunteers.

In Business is all about change. New ways of work and new technologies are challenging most of the assumptions by which organisations have been run for the last 100 years. We try to report on ideas coming over the horizon, just before they start being talked about. We hope it is an exhilarating ride.
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