Women should not, like Jane Austen, be ‘quietly waiting in the wings’

CWANFK Jane Austen

Jane Austen is ‘quietly waiting in the wings’ according to Sir Mervyn King the outgoing governor of the Bank of England. He has been responding to criticisms that Winston Churchill would be replacing Elizabeth Fry on the £5 note and that women’s achievements on banknotes were therefore under-represented. Not to worry, says Mervyn, Jane Austen will be the new face on the £10 note in the not too distant future.

As a very big Jane Austen fan I am delighted that she is to be recognised in this way. She spent most of her life ‘quietly waiting in the wings’ and did not receive the acclaim she deserved as an author until long after her death. But as Sarah Churchwell (Professor of American Literature at the University of East Anglia) pointed out this week, Jane Austen will be the only woman (following Fry’s departure) out of six symbolic figures to be represented on England’s banknotes. This proportion pretty much reflects the level of women’s representation in other walks of life. For instance only 20% of board members in the UK are women. Why is it that women still have so little influence at the top?

Evidence suggests that having women on boards contributes positively to the company’s bottom line. According to Eversheds, an international law firm, the world’s best performing companies tend to have a higher percentage of female directors. And a 2011 study by McKinsey found that European companies that had at least three women on their executive committees significantly outperformed their sector in terms of average return on equity.

Some blame the ‘old boys network’ for the lack of women directors, others suggest that, until more women make it to senior management positions, the talent pool for board positions will remain relatively small. To speed up the process the European Commission adopted a European Union law in January this year which aims to attain a 40% “objective” of women in non-executive board positions in publicly listed companies by 2020. Some countries are introducing quotas in order to reach this target. Critics of the quota approach argue that this is ‘tokenism’ and that more radical change is needed in the mind-set of the business community if sustainable and significant progress is to be achieved.

Whatever the reason it’s generally agreed that women could do better at putting themselves forward and seeking out board positions. They need to get themselves noticed, build their networks and put their hands up for new and challenging opportunities. Jane Austen may still be ‘quietly waiting in the wings’ – the rest of us don’t have too.

See JPA’s Top Ten Tips for Getting a Non-Executive Position

Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed.

Latest posts from my blog