Maybe it’s because he’s been so successful in business, his passion for supporting humanitarian causes, or perhaps the fact he’ll be taking regular (albeit wealthy) people to space in the near future; maybe I just like the accent, but I’ve always admired Sir Richard Branson. His recent post for Entrepreneur, addresses an issue near and dear to my heart (and my lady parts)—the conspicuous lack of women in the boardroom.
Conjuring the iconic images from the 1957 film, 12 Angry Men, Branson draws an uncomfortably accurate comparison between the film’s all male, middle aged, white jury, to the boards of today’s companies. He’s got a point. While the lack of diversity during the era of the film was more acceptable at the time, that was over 50 years ago.
In the past 50 years, humanity has witnessed inventions that have significantly altered how we go about our daily lives—you know, little things like the jet airliner, personal computers, cell phones, and GPS, just to name a few—yet the prevalence of women ascending to the upper echelons of corporate governance hasn’t enjoyed the same progress.
According to 20/20 Women on Boards, less than 30% of America’s Fortune 1000 companies are comprised of boards comprised of at least 20% women, and just over half have only one or no women represented on their boards.
But, in his post, Branson isn’t just talking about equality, he’s talking about something that just may hold the key to closing the wage gap—our mindset. He points out that women make the majority of decisions in our daily lives, and challenges companies to explain why that hasn’t translated to representation on their boards as well:
“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?”
Branson offers up a few suggestions, even admitting legislation will probably be necessary, but the impact of this post doesn’t come from his business advice—although he makes a great argument—but from his identification of the issue for what it really is: Injustice.
Whether you love him or loathe him, Branson’s success commands a certain amount of respect for his counsel, and this issue is no exception. If one of the most successful businessmen on the planet thinks getting women on the path to their seat at the boardroom table is a priority, we’d be wise to listen.
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