My open email to Helena Morrissey

My thanks to Dorothea for pointing me towards a piece in today’s issue of The Independent. The Saturday edition has a column in which prominent figures answer ‘This Week’s Big Questions’. I must have been out of the house this week when the paper called me for my contribution, because they’ve turned instead to the acceptable face of an unacceptable initiative. It could only be… yes, of course… Helena Morrissey. She obviously found herself with some time on her hands earlier this week. One assumes she survives on five minutes’ sleep per night, her husband likewise, given they have almost four times more children than the recommended quota of 2.4.

I shall email Ms Morrissey a copy of this piece, and ask her to respond to my comments and queries (in italics). Don’t hold your breath. The only thing she doesn’t normally manage to fit into her week is to answer emails from C4MB.

A section from the article in the paper:

This week Helena Morrissey, the CEO of Newton Investment Management and founder of the 30 Per Cent Club answers our questions on equality in the boardroom, employment rights and more

Are Cameron/Osborne out of touch with the “strivers” and “struggling middle classes”?

I don’t know Osborne but I’ve met David Cameron a few times, and from all his interactions with the people around him, including his wife, I believe he’s a genuine person who should be judged on his actions, not his accent.

Ms Morrissey, I agree Dave should be judged on his actions. Unfortunately his actions are invariably (whenever presented with the opportunity) pro-women and anti-men, and usually pro-feminist too. Is he sponsored by the Fawcett Society, do you think? Even by his low standards, a particularly deplorable decision was to appoint a Labour MP, Lord Davies of Abersoch, to write a report into how to increase the number of women in boardrooms.  

The ongoing insinuation that because he’s an Old Etonian he must be out of touch is very prejudiced. I went to a comprehensive school and my son’s an Etonian…

Oh, no… 9–1 = 8… are there eight miniature Helenas due to be unleashed on the world in the fullness of time? We’re all doomed…

…and our respective attitudes are much more to do with what we’re like as people than our schooling. Cameron’s been mocked for the line “I’m here to spread privilege”, but we do need to regain a sense that it’s good to be aspirational if we’re going to overcome our current economic malaise. That will ultimately help the many people who are struggling today much more than a culture which decries success.

Does it matter that so few women are on the boards of top companies?

Better balanced boardrooms just make more sense.

They ‘just makes more sense’. Er… how, precisely? Still, at least you’re not peddling that tired old nonsense (in this piece, anyway) about how corporate performance will improve if more women are on boards. We’ve just publicised the fifth study showing the exact opposite is true.

It seems so old-fashioned to have male-dominated boards.

I’m starting to lose the will to live now… it also seems ‘so old-fashioned’ to survive by eating food and breathing oxygen, but if it’s OK with you, I’ll stick with these commendable habits.

While there are still relatively few women on boards, the pace of change in the FTSE100 is striking. Since 1 March this year, 55 per cent of FTSE100 non-executive director appointments have gone to women, a rate that surely can’t be bettered if you believe as I do that appointments must be on merit.

The proportion of new FTSE100 directors who are women has increased more than fourfold, under the threat of legislated quotas, from its pre-quota threat level of 13% (2010) to 55% (March – August 2012). Do you really think the readers of your piece will believe that the high intake of women onto FTSE100 boards in 2012 got onto those boards through merit?

I’m vehemently anti-quotas to force change; they are a form of discrimination and don’t work.

If you’re against quotas, are you also against the threat of quotas, which is the real driver of the 55% figure? How can quotas be wrong, but the threat of them right? There’s nothing voluntary about what FTSE100 companies are doing here. They’re adopting the same strategy – appointing women as non-executive directors – which has been so damaging to Norwegian publicly-listed companies.

People cite Norway as a case for quotas but in fact Norway still has very few female CEOs and top managers – even below the European average. Quotas are a lazy, short-term fix.

And the threat of quotas is, conversely… ?

I’m interested in a sustainable increase in the pipeline, which will take longer but deliver real benefits to businesses that currently lose so much female talent.

They only ‘lose so much female talent’ because women prefer the alternatives to the stress and effort of ascending corporate hierarchies. What woman, saying she wanted a ‘better’ work/life balance, means she wanted more work?

Why are there no female frontrunners for the governorship of the Bank of England?

Perhaps women are smart enough to realise that might be an impossible job! There are probably only a handful of genuine candidates – male or female – with broad enough market and economic experience who could really do and want that job. We shouldn’t get too hung up on the fact that there isn’t an obvious woman candidate for this unique role. The reality is that there is a much smaller pool of very senior female executives in today’s world.

My understanding is that a woman was in contention for the governorship, but she made it clear she didn’t want the job. I’ll bet she came under a lot of pressure to put herself forward for it. The woman clearly has integrity, wouldn’t you agree?

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