Women on boards – We need to move away from the ‘Boys Club’ phenomenon

By Katrine Gilberg, Head of Board & Advisory, CVX Ventures

In Denmark, there have been discussions about more diversity on boards for several years.
I get it, because it seems to be all talk.

Some argue that women’s quotas are necessary to ensure women’s representation on boards. But this raises an important question: Do quotas really benefit women, or do we risk reducing their contribution to a checkbox? And will we even reach our goal with quotas?

New figures from the research agency Analyse & Tal show that only around 20% of all board positions in Denmark are held by women . Compared to our Nordic neighbors, where Sweden and Norway have 38% and 41% of women on boards respectively, Denmark is hopelessly behind.

We need to recognize that a 50/50 gender split may never be a reality – in part because men and women make different career choices. But this isn’t necessarily a problem as long as the choices are based on free will in a society that values (and creates) equality and opportunity for all. That is the essence of a liberal and free society.

So maybe it’s time we as a society rethink our approach to gender equality and find new ways to promote women’s representation at the top of business – and not just rely on quotas and targets to make change happen.

We know that most board positions are filled through the company/founder’s network. We also know that direct and equal access to networks is a crucial factor that makes a significant difference to women’s opportunities in business. This is both in terms of career development – but especially in terms of acquiring board positions.

So how do we do away with the so-called “boys club phenomenon” seen in many business networks and lodges? How do we create an environment that is more attractive for women to operate in, when we don’t want more administrative burdens such as quotas and targets in Danish top management and boards?

At CVX Ventures, for example, we’ve effectively helped a higher percentage of women in our community achieve board and advisory roles compared to their male counterparts, and that’s by accident, not by design. I feel confident that this is due to our unbiased methodology, which does not consider gender or the ability to “ingratiate” when selecting and presenting board candidates for the companies we work with.

We also find that many founders are actually keen to have women on board and recognize women’s personal abilities and professional skills.

We receive positive feedback on having a network where it’s not the same 15-20 people you meet every time – but instead a huge event where there are always new people to meet and exciting and inspiring cases to present.

I believe we need to create more events that focus on opening doors and creating opportunities based on skills matches rather than prior connections.

We need to create networks that go far beyond the traditional “boys club”!

More initiatives that support networks, mentoring and similar initiatives that promote diversity should also be looked at and should receive greater political and societal support.

Finally, as I’ve stated before, it’s very much about changing the rhetoric around women in leadership and on boards and recognizing their skills and experience so that it’s not a surprise when women achieve success.

It’s time we embrace a more holistic approach to gender equality on boards. Let’s work together to create equal access to networks that support a business community that reflects the society we want to live in – a society where free will reigns and skills and diversity are key to success.

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