Women are known to compromise. We start from an early age when the choice of what career path we will take is influenced by the mentality of those around us that certain careers are better if you eventually need to juggle being a wife, mother and professional. All these roles are important for a woman and bring joy and fulfillment with a lot of juggling, multi-tasking and sacrifices.
Despite much talk about equality, the reality is that certain roles, tasks and functions are still viewed by society, at least in Malta, as the sole responsibility of a woman. Acting as director of a company is not one of these roles. As a wife, mother and professional, I am not in favour of imposing a quota on companies to appoint women directors. Women deserve better. We should be appointed as directors of a board not because a company wants to tick the box as having fulfilled this quota requirement. Our education and work experiences, together with our open-mindedness and ‘can do’ attitude, should be characteristics that are considered by shareholders as important attributes which they want to see on their boards.
Once again, women may need to compromise here. Women may need to accept that there should be a quota on the amount of women appointed as directors. However this should be transitional and should only be imposed for a specified number of years. Once companies appoint women as directors if forced to do so, in the long run they will see the benefits and such appointments will increase. That is, if women want to take up these roles.
By nature, and especially if they have a family, women tend to be risk-averse and may not be as willing as men to jump at the prospect of being appointed as director. The responsibilities and liabilities which accompany this role may be seen as too onerous unless a sound corporate governance framework is in place within the company proposing the appointment.
Any person who is weighing the possibility of being appointed director should ensure that there are the adequate safeguards in place to ensure that director liability is minimised as much as possible.
Directors should be more aware of their role and responsibilities to ensure that these are fulfilled to the best of their abilities and that they add value to a company.
With the current legal provisions on liability for tax, health and safety, company compliance and other areas of responsibility – with directors being held personally liable for obligations they cannot even monitor or control – it is surprising how anyone would agree to be a director, let alone women with families and many duties to meet.
Balanced and inclusive boards are more likely to be effective boards but this will depend on the range of skill, competences, experiences and knowledge of the people chosen as directors.
Non-executive directors should be appointed on boards to strengthen independence in decision-making. Gone are the days when being appointed as a director was seen as a status. Nowadays, any person proposed as director should seek to ensure that his or her reputation is safeguarded.
People appointed directors should ensure that there is the proper diversification, whether of gender or otherwise, required for a board to function properly.
Once these safeguards are in place and businesses come to understand the added value which women on boards can provide, women may find themselves in a situation where more are appointed on boards – and more accept this role.
Stephanie Sciberras is a senior associate at Ganado and Associates Advocates and heads the corporate governance services team.
Published in The Times of Malta (Business) on 20 December 2012. Online.