Op-ed: A different kind of quota

Published on
March 7, 2017

Mel Groundsell, is the corporate relations director at the U.K. Seafish Authority.

A round of applause, everyone – it’s International Women’s Day!

“And why should we care?” I hear you ask.

Never mind the politics; gender balance is good for business.

According to Lord Davies' Women on Boards Report, "Research has shown that strong stock market growth among European companies is most likely to occur where there is a higher proportion of women in senior management teams. Companies with more women on their boards were found to outperform their rivals with a 42 percent higher return in sales, 66 percent higher return on invested capital and 53 percent higher return on equity.” 

And Lord Davies had a few other things to say on the matter. Over and above well-evidenced performance improvement, he cited the following benefits to a gender balanced senior team:

• Ensuring access to the widest talent pool – women are half the workforce, so if you’re only recruiting men you’re missing out on some big opportunities
• Being more responsive to the market – not only are women half the workforce, they’re half the public purse and in the U.K., account for an estimated 70 percent of household purchases – women buy more fish!
• Achieving better corporate governance – in senior positions, women are more likely to instigate and adhere to good governance regimes, with audit, reviews and training high on their agenda.
In the five years following Lord Davis’s review, the number of women on FTSE 100 Boards more than doubled to 26.1 percent – so we are at least moving in the right direction.
At Seafish, we do pretty well, with an equal split on both our executive and our senior management team, and although women account for only 25 percent of our board, we did until very recently have both a female chair and vice chair. I’m confident that your gender won’t impact your chances at Seafish, but what about out there in the wider seafood world?
In her December 2016 review, Marie Christine Monfort found that a better gender balance was still a long way off, with women representing just 9.1 percent of the leadership teams in a list of Top 100 seafood companies. A senior seafood market analyst, Monfort has been the driving force behind the newly launched Association for Women in the Seafood Industry (WSI), which aims to raise awareness of women’s contribution to the industry.

WSI is picking up the mantle for gender diversity and follows in the footsteps of several groups representing women in various sectors of the seafood industry, including the North Sea Women’s Network. Initiated in the U.K., this group at one time had an active European membership and played an important role in the governance of North Sea fisheries, with a seat on the North Sea Regional Advisory Council (RAC).

Pockets of good work are being done. We are legislated for equality on every front and the benefits of gender balance are clear and proven, yet somehow, when I look around an industry meeting, the vast majority of the people I see are men; mostly white, and mostly middle-aged.

It’s clear our hearts are in the right place, but what’s it going to take to deliver real and lasting progress? We know where we want to be, so what’s stopping us getting there?

So far the U.K. has resisted using the law to enforce gender balance requirements, but many of our European cousins have chosen that route and are marching apace towards their goals. Iceland, Norway, France, Germany and others have set minimum requirements with varying penalties and degrees of success.

Although not minded to recommend the introduction of minimum legal requirements for gender balance in senior teams, Lord Davies does recognize that, “Undoubtedly quotas have driven faster progress where some countries have adopted them.” He gives a clear hint that the rule of the law may be brought in if companies fail to deliver on their promise of progress.

Whether a legal minimum representation of women in senior teams is the way to go remains to be seen, but the debate on quota is a divisive one, whether you’re talking gender or fish.

Whatever it takes, we can all play a role in shaping a more successful seafood industry by helping get more women on board. At Seafish, we’ll be supporting International Women’s Day by celebrating some of the inspiring women in seafood who have already chosen to lend their talents to the seafood industry.

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