The Politeia fringe meeting at the Conservative party conference

Yesterday morning I took my Rottweiler – Harriet – out for her customary walk in Royal Victoria Park in Bath. It was rather earlier than usual, so Harriet was even more grumpy than usual. As usual she snarled at any men who walked near us, whilst being happy for women to approach her. We had to take the walk earlier than usual because I had to travel to Birmingham to attend a fringe meeting organised by the think tank Politeia, the meeting mentioned by Quentin Letts in his Daily Mail column last Saturday. The meeting was titled, ‘Women in the Boardroom: Good for Recovery, Good for Growth!’

Shortly after arriving at the hotel I spotted a couple in the lobby, an attractive slim lady I recognised instantly, and a gentleman. I introduced myself to them. The lady was Helena Morrissey (30% club, CEO of Newton Investment Management, mother of a gerzillion kids…), the gentleman her lucky husband, Richard. Both of them were charm personified. I’d feared I might not be permitted into the meeting, but my fears evaporated.

Shortly before the meeting I introduced myself to Sheila Lawlor, Director of Politeia, who also was charming, and likewise the Conservative MP Helen Grant, to whom I wished to pose a question at the meeting.

Also attending the event was a lady with a familiar face, so I introduced myself to Professor Susan Vinnicombe (Cranfield). She was clearly delighted to note my presence at the event. The meeting room was duly filled to capacity, perhaps 80+ people in the audience, 60+ of them being of the female persuasion.

Helen Grant MP was on the panel, but unfortunately she disappeared shortly after the start of the meeting, and on Newsnight last night I found out why. It has become the custom for David Cameron to walk to the conference centre in the company of a woman, and Helen was performing this vital service for humanity, at the expense of engaging properly with the Politeia meeting. Thanks, Dave.

The panel consisted of the following:

Sarah Sands – Editor, London Evening Standard.

Helena Morrissey

Helen Brand – Chief Executive, ACCA

Stephen Haddrill – CEO, Financial Reporting Council

To respond from the UK and EU parliaments were:

Marina Yannakoudakis MEP

Harriet Baldwin MP – Work and Pensions Select Committee

The panelists each took five minutes to talk, the MEP and MP likewise. To my astonishment the lady from ACCA mentioned some of Catalyst’s ‘Bottom Line’ claims of improved corporate performance when women are on boards, conveniently not mentioning that Catalyst stopped making such claims over a year ago. Or maybe she was simply unaware of that minor detail.

Sheila Lawlor asked for questions in the audience, my arm shot up, and she kindly asked my to pose the first question, which follows. The ‘lady on the panel’ was Helena Morrissey, the ‘professor’ Susan Vinnicombe, but I thought I’d spare naming them. I stood up and cleared my throat.

‘Mike Buchanan of the Campaign for Merit. I was hoping to put a question to Helen Grant, but in her absence I shall address it to Harriet Baldwin. (Mrs Baldwin smiled weakly, clearly grateful for the opportunity). Independent studies show that increasing female representation on boards causes corporate performance to decline (groans at this point from a number of the ladies in the room) and I have some of the evidence for that assertion in handouts I’ll be distributing at the end of this meeting. We’ve challenged a lady on the panel, and a professor in the audience, for evidence that higher female representation on boards leads to enhanced corporate performance, and they’ve supplied nothing. Why is a Conservative-led coalition driving a left-wing social engineering initiative which can only harm British business? And if we’re all agreed that legislated quotas for women on boards are wrong, how can the threat of such quotas be right?’

Mrs Baldwin switched on her politician’s auto-pilot and said she’d be grateful to have sight of the research evidence I was citing. No mention of the threat of quotas. Helena Morrissey then confessed to being the ‘lady on the panel’ and said that showing causation was very difficult. A fair point, but of course she’s aware that we have four studies with strong evidence that increased female representation on boards causes a decline in corporate performance, and she has pointed to no studies of equal rigour showing corporate performance improves. She mentioned the recent Credit Suisse report. I wanted to point out that the report clearly states there’s no evidence of a positive causal link – we have a blog post on the report – but by this time other people wanted to pose questions.

The meeting was sponsored by ACCA, a body representing accountants worldwide. Some light refreshments were served, and I enjoyed a glass or two of a very sound Italian Cabernet Sauvignon. The only time in my life I’ve enjoyed something paid for by accountants.

I gave away 50+ handouts after the meeting to members of the audience. Several ladies, with clenched jaws, declined to accept one. They clearly didn’t wish to expose themselves to research evidence showing that what they fondly believe in may be a myth.

The handout:

121009 Politeia handout draft

My thanks to Sheila Lawlor for being a gracious host, and for permitting me to ask my question. I offered to present my IEA lecture to her colleagues and herself at Politeia.

On my way out of the hotel I spotted that a meeting of the Centre for Policy Studies was ending. I introduced myself to Tim Knox, CPS’s Head Honcho – that may not be his official title – gave him a copy of my handout, and asked if I might present my IEA lecture to them too.

One thought on “The Politeia fringe meeting at the Conservative party conference

  1. Pingback: Martin Samuel: ‘Crusade for women’s sport is just hypocrisy’ |

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