Unconscious Bias and the ‘Women on Boards’ Davies Review

Published on: Thu 29 October 2015 by Admin

The long awaited summary review of the ‘Women on Boards’ project has been published today and what fabulous reading it makes.

The project team, led by Lord Davies of Abersoch CBE, aimed to improve the gender balance on British Boards, by voluntary means, rather than by introducing quotas. Considering the enormity of the task, the results look impressive with the number of women on Boards within the FTSE100 moving up from 12.5% in 2011 to 26.1% in October 2015.

The report confirms that in 2011 there were 21 all male Boards amongst the FTSE100, today there are none. Amongst the FTSE250 companies there are only a remaining 15 all male Boards (come down from 131 in 2011). The 15 remaining have been approached by the project team, some have responded and are on the case, others are not and perhaps do not see it as a priority.

Equally impressive is the manner in which all of this has been achieved. There has been a clearly defined business case put forward by the project team for improving gender balance in the Boardroom. In my view essential if we want the improvements to stick, placing the topic on the platter of ‘fairness’ and ‘equality’ was not going to work, all male Boards have heard all that before.

The achievement has now put Britain 6th in Europe behind Norway, Sweden, France, Finland and Belgium; with many of the countries we compare ourselves to having introduced legislative quota regimes.

As with ripples in a pond, the waves of change will now hopefully spill over onto the next size organisations down. Whilst the report clearly celebrates successes, it is also very quick to point out that there is still much to do.

This 5 point checklist, taken from the report, provides guidance on what organisations can practically do to get themselves started. Interestingly, Unconscious Bias is one of the key areas sighted to encourage change:

  • Recognise whether unconscious bias is prevalent in decision making and interactions

  • Implement unconscious bias training for line and senior managers, with regular refresher training and action plans to support learning

  • Ask the women when opportunities arise – don’t make assumptions about women’s ambition, preferences or personal circumstances

  • Encourage and support women into challenging, high visibility assignments, or to gain international experience

  • Heavily weight authentic and different leadership styles and make room for all styles at the top

In our experience, as providers of development, Unconscious Bias has proved to be a hot topic over the last few years. Organisations have come to recognise that discrimination is destructive and counter-productive. Equality and diversity legislation and training has developed an understanding of conscious discrimination, either because of prejudice or ignorance.

Righttrack’s Equality Specialist, Alaba Okuyiga, takes about Unconscious Bias

Increasing awareness of the fact we can unconsciously discriminate against one group or person in favour of another, without even realising it, can only assist in the process of re-addressing the gender balance, not only in the Boardroom, but at all levels within an organisation.

Unconscious Bias awareness, through testing, training and coaching will provide a real and lasting improvement in the quality of decision making and have a far reaching impact on organisational performance.

I, for one, look forward to reading the next five year report and feel confident that the impressive progress made to date is just the start.

To find out more about ways to tackle Unconscious Bias in your organisation download more information here.