Tuesday, 13 March 2012

The biology of the boardroom

It's a bit off topic but there's been a lot in the press this week about women in business and the failure of british companies to have proper female representation on their boards.

There is of course the usual talk of quotas to address the, but the fact it hasn't happened naturally does highlight the fact that there are very particular reasons why women don't get ahead in business in the same way that men do and I wanted to blog on why this might be.

Robert Peston has actually written a pretty sensible article on the topic: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-17257124  which cites recent research showing that only 5.7% of the executive, board-level directors of FTSE 150 companies are women and that 21% do not have a woman on the board.

Women are of course fundamentally biologically different to men leading to inevitable issues when it comes to balancing a career and having a family. But this isn't where the differences end.

The way women and men react under stress also differs - men typically have a "fight or flight" response whilst women try to defuse difficult situations, or "tend and befriend", which can translate in the workplace to men becoming more aggressive under stress whilst women will become more concerned/anxious.

Scientists think they may have actually identified a "macho'"gene that causes this aggression under stress which is only found on the Y chromosome so isn't present in women.

Sadly the city is not the pure meritocracy we'd like it to be and the environment tends to favour the aggressive and the pushy so naturally will favour men when it comes to promotions and getting ahead. It's also not uncommon for women to decide to switch out of stressful city jobs mid career again possibly because they don't thrive on the environment the way their male colleagues might.

Whatever the reason, recognising the differences between the sexes, rather than ignoring them, has got to be part of the strategy to get women into boardrooms.


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