Home Business NewsBusiness Changing this one word could get more women on boards

Changing this one word could get more women on boards

6th Feb 15 11:43 am

And more women = more money for your business. Don’t believe us? Read on


Yeah, yeah, I know, I know.

We are doing well on the gender equality stakes in UK workplaces, generally speaking, and certainly compared to most other countries.

As of October 2014, women accounted for more than one in five FTSE 100 board directorships (22.8%) and 17.5% of FTSE 250 board positions, according to Cranfield University’s Women on Boards report (the definitive annual monitor for this metric).

That’s almost double the number of women on FTSE 100 boards as there were in February 2011, and more than double for FTSE 250 companies.

That is a brilliant rate of progress in three-and-a-half years.

But, also…

It’s still quite a way off 50%, isn’t it?

According to the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills’ just-published report into women on boards, it will take more than 70 years to achieve gender-balanced boards in the UK.

70 years!

That’s shocking. And it’s bad for business.

Why gender-balance matters (this is actually about profit)

I’m not going to tell you that having more gender-balanced boards is important simply because we should have a more equal society.

That is, as it happens, what I believe – but you’re perfectly entitled to think otherwise.

LondonlovesBusiness.com is first and foremost a business publication, not a feminist one.

So here’s why you should care about getting more women on boards: companies with more gender-balanced boards are more successful.

This has been proven time and time again, but to cite just a couple of bits of research that BIS’s report gives a nod to: “Companies with more women on their boards were found to outperform their rivals with a 42% higher return in sales, 66% higher return on invested capital and 53% higher return on equity.”

You can’t really argue with that.

More gender-balance = more money.

Yet, as the stats at the beginning of this article show, the boards of the largest companies in the UK are still overwhelmingly male-dominated.

So about that one word that needs changing…

There are lots of ways for businesses to tackle gender imbalance at the top level of business – as you’ll see from the links to other pieces we’ve written at the bottom of this article.

But here’s one really simple idea that could make a big difference.

It’s as simple as removing three letters from a job title.

Stop calling the chairman the “chairman”.

Call them the chair (or chairperson).

Because, whether consciously or subconsciously, women are less likely to picture themselves in a role that defines itself as male.

Which means they’re less likely to aim for it, and therefore less likely to end up on the board of a company as they try to reach the level of chair.

There are lots of academics and psychologists who can explain how the genderisation of language subtly shapes our thoughts and perceptions.

If you’re interested, one of my favourites is cognitive scientist Lera Boroditsky, who talks about how the genderisation of certain words shapes cultural perceptions of the things they describe, and how language shapes thought.

There are many more – which might explain the growing management trend for ensuring language used in business is gender-neutral. You can read more about that here.

The UK government is also starting to take note of the importance of gender-neutral language.

Lorely Burt MP, the government’s ambassador for women in enterprise, is one example of a senior politician pushing for more awareness of gender-neutrality in government literature (as she outlined at a recent lunch with The Entrepreneurs Network that I attended).

What you can do about it

It’s pretty simple.

Does your business have a “chairman”?

Why not change the title to “chair” or “chairperson”?

It won’t make any difference to the operations of your company.

But, if enough of you reading this make that small change, it might just kick-start a linguistic shift that could improve the profits of thousands of businesses, and the career prospects of half of society, in one fell swoop.

Which isn’t too shabby for the erasure of three letters.

Chairman to chair



Now read:

>> Let’s close the gender pay gap. Women, this is how to ask for a pay rise

>> Gender equality will take 81 years, and the UK is behind Rwanda and Nicaragua

>> This is how London’s top businesswomen believe we can get more women into senior roles

>> Are boardroom quotas for women patronising or positive?


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