Most people in the UK have only a passing knowledge of Thanksgiving and would normally associate the holiday vaguely with the first settlers in the ‘New World’. It may therefore surprise you that it was President Lincoln who first made Thanksgiving a national holiday in the late 1800s. He aimed to help unify the states during a trying time in which thousands lost their lives in order to end slavery and establish equality among the races. The battle for equality that the American Civil War symbolises is still relevant this Thanksgiving, as that battle is still not over.
The recent publication of Lord Davies’ report on gender equality on Company Boards and the (much, much smaller) step that it represents in the progression towards equality in our country shows us that the battle marches on.
While it is clear that some progress has been made (there are no all male boards on the FTSE 100 and women hold 26% of board positions in FTSE 100 companies, compared to 12.5% in 2011) in terms of the gender imbalance on Company Boards in the UK, it could be argued that the Davies Report serves mainly to highlight the inequality that still exists.
With a view to addressing that imbalance, the report recommends that businesses be encouraged to take it upon themselves to progress matters and in particular sets targets for Companies to attain within the next 5 years. The Report points out that the number of women in executive positions (at the moment 9.6% in FTSE 100 Companies) is particularly low and exhorts Companies to put measures in place to improve this. On the other hand, the report did not recommend introducing mandatory quotas (favoured by many other European countries) for female board representation, despite evidence from other jurisdictions that such policies are effective.
The report also recommends that large Companies should be placed under reporting duties to increase the level of transparency in this area. It is advised that Companies be required to publish their policies for obtaining gender equality within their organisation and to disclose the proportion of women on their boards, the number of women in executive positions in the company and the number of female employees in the organisation. It remains to be seen whether these measures will be put in place and further, whether they will allow the UK to meet its gender equality targets over the next 5 years. However, it is clear that progress is being made, which is something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.
Kieran Reilly is a trainee solicitor working in the corporate team in Fife and Edinburgh.