On a couple of recent occasions, I was asked about what is commonly defined as the “golden skirts” phenomenon, whether there’s a risk of some female non-executive directors taking on too many Board roles as a result of a law on #DiverseBoards (this is another one of many possible definitions).
I would warn to be skeptical. I would even go as far as to say that this is a clear instance of unconscious biases at play. We look at women in a different, more biased way than we would normally look at men.
The expression “Golden skirts” has the very same unconsciously negative overtones as expressions such as “pink” quotas and the like. Unconsciously, similarity bias makes us fear adding diverse members to the board.
There might be women taking on too many board positions, exactly as there might be many men who do the same. Nothing to do with gender nor with the law. Let’s note, though, that we do not seem we use a similar “gender” stereotype as that of a “golden skirt” when we describe such a phenomenon when it involves men.
Even if we assumed, for the sake of the argument, that there might be cases of women taking on an excessive number of non-executive board positions, under no circumstances would this imply scarcity of female talent or a peculiar behavior of women.
In addition, we need to be extremely careful. If you properly look for it, and manage to overcome unconscious biases, female talent is abundant so that there is no risk that women take on too many board positions as there is too little talent to meet demand.
In the country where I live, where a law on #DiverseBoards has been in place since 2012, we haven’t observed this phenomenon amongst women any differently than we would observe it amongst men. I would even go as far as to say that in my personal professional experience, I have encountered in women an extreme level of care about not taking on too many board seats, thereby running the risk of dedicating too little time to any single given board position they hold. Not for a reason of gender, we should note. Rather, as women have approached Board roles with more insight, as they have “raised the standards” in terms of preparing for a board seat. From now on, even men will have to do the same.
Reducing unconscious biases. Raising talent, merit, competencies, improving corporate governance. This is what #DiverseBoards is all about.
I have the chance (for my job) to speak with a lot of women who are asked to take on positions in boardrooms and I notice that they have a very cautious approach. They aren’t interested just in having a seat somewhere, they manage their career in a very mindful way. I don’t see any risk that women take on too many board positions, just to be there!!!