Home Business Is Legislation Needed to Close the Gender Gap in the Board Room?

Is Legislation Needed to Close the Gender Gap in the Board Room?

Ruth Porat
Morgan Stanley’s Chief Financial Officer Ruth Porat (photo by Jin Lee/Bloomberg News)

Tackling the question of how to make advancement in business more accessible for women

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Ruth Porat
Morgan Stanley’s Chief Financial Officer Ruth Porat (photo by Jin Lee/Bloomberg News)

In yet another call for closing the gender gap in the world of business leadership, Morgan Stanley’s Chief Financial Officer Ruth Porat spoke yesterday on the need to shake up the current system. In her talk to the Japan Society, she described the dearth of women heading large US companies an ‘embarrassment’. She suggested that perhaps legislative actions were needed in the face of reluctance in the business community to make concrete changes to advance women into leadership roles. In particular, Porat called for improved family leave laws that would no longer force women to choose between advancing in their careers or raising a family.

The business sector’s failure to push for serious structural changes is hardly a new issue. As the board room culture has traditionally been focused on the male employee, there is still resistance to making room at the table for women. According to studies conducted on women in leadership roles, only 8% of the top paid executives at S&P 500 companies were women in 2012. Europe does not seem to be doing that much better, with just 10% of large companies being headed by women. With the vast majority of those people holding the keys to career advancement being men, Porat’s remarks serve to further drive home the point that if women are going to have a genuine shot at making it to the top, change may need to come from the outside.

While the United States is unlikely to adopt a policy of gender quotas like Norway, which now has women serving as over 40% of board directors, some legislative measures will likely be needed. In the 24/7 world of global business, companies expect their employees to be 100% focused on their jobs, often leaving workers with the unfair decision between family or career. The question is however, would the imposition of laws requiring firms to make it easier for women to take time off to raise their families really lead to more women at the top?

The answer to this is a definite maybe. While making it easier for women (and men) to combine their life goals through more liberal laws, it still fails to address many of the internal roadblocks inside the industry. If we look at who is in charge of the hiring and promotions, it is generally men. Studies have shown that men will normally look to work with those who have similar outlooks as them, generally meaning other men. This method of evaluating and promoting that while seemingly natural, ignores the added value that women bring with them to the business world.

Porat’s call for outside intervention should be taken as a wake up call to the business community. Change is never easy, especially when it is so deeply embedded in a culture. However when even those who have lived and breathed within this system are ready to make the step of calling for government action into the sacred sphere of the private sector, it demands notice and a little bit of self introspection.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

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William R. Feins , freelance journalist from London, UK; he received his B.A. degree in Economics and his Masters in Sociology. William has always been interested in the mechanics of business and the inspiration of original thinkers, and firmly believes that the former can’t succeed without the latter. In his spare time, he enjoys the ridiculous spectacle of watching table tennis on a big screen (preferably at a pub) and reading weighty tomes about World War II.