Entrepreneur.com ran an article last month – “Richard Branson on Why We Need More Women in the Boardroom” – that was penned by the tie-loathing, British business magnate himself. Branson, Founder of Virgin Group, which includes around 200 companies in over 30 countries, is known and admired for his mind, leadership, philanthropy, and drive to tackle some of the world’s toughest problems through innovation and creativity. So when a leader of his caliber speaks out on behalf of women, we take notice and hope the rest of the world will too.
Just like Jerry had Dorothy at “hello”, Branson had us at the lead of his piece, “I recently watched 12 Angry Men — that classic 1957 film about a jury struggling to decide the fate of an 18-year-old man who has been charged with murder. The movie gives you a sense of how the legal system worked in the United States back then, when juries were less diverse. By today’s standards, we would find it unsettling if a jury were comprised of 12 middle-aged white men. So why have so many business leaders been slow to take notice when women are absent from the boards of their companies?”
We have long pondered the answer to this question. So we’re letting out a collective sigh of relief that a progressive thinking and well respected businessman with a world stage and captive audience at his disposal has stepped up to shed some much needed light and perspective on the issue. If he can’t shake other business leaders into action, then who?
Branson’s exploration of this global problem in his Entrepreneur.com piece is an eye opening education. He starts with a glimpse of things in the U.S.: 47 percent of American workers are females, but men are still much more likely than women to hold senior positions (as is the case in most developing nations). He goes on to quote statistics from the European Commission on the percentages of female board members at the largest companies in the Europe: “In Italy, only 6 percent of board members are women; in Spain and Belgium, 11 percent; in Germany, 16 percent; in France, 22 percent.” He explains that, “The commission has been championing a planned EU law to impose sanctions on companies in the European Union if less than 40 percent of their board members are women.” While Branson himself admits that he is not usually a fan of government involvement in private industry, he sees it as necessary when it comes to this issue.
So how do companies measure up in his part of the world? The Cranfield School of Management recently reported that 50 percent of the largest British companies now have more than one woman on their boards. But, Branson adds, “British companies still have a long way to go.”
At his own Virgin Group, two companies – Virgin Money and Virgin Holidays – are both run by female CEOs and the person in the number two spot at Virgin Atlantic is a woman. Branson says, “There are many women in senior management at other Virgin companies, but we have much to do as an organization.” Bravo Mr. Branson for recognizing your need to do more as a business leader. As you said yourself, “A report by the Credit Suisse Research Institute revealed that those firms dominated by men had recovered more slowly since the 2008 financial downturn than those with a more balanced male-female ratio.”
Branson closes the piece with another question that we see as purely rhetorical as its point is so perfectly simple and logical that it requires no answer, no debate. “Seventy percent of household purchasing decisions are made by women, according to the Boston Consulting Group. Those decisions are not just about grocery lists or kids’ clothes — women also choose big ticket items such as cars and vacations. So, if 50 percent of the staff at a company is female, and women drive 70 percent of the buying decisions for its products, what possible rationale can senior management have for leaving women out of the corporate decision-making process?” Enough said.
On behalf of all women, we thank you for writing this piece Mr. Branson.
PS – If your personal fan club happens to have a Board, we’d like to nominate our Founders, two successful female entrepreneurs, as honorary Directors.
To read Mr. Branson’s entrepreneur.com article in its entirety, click here.