Wonder Women and the Brexit Lasso of Truth

Does Brexit mean a hard border, a watered-down Chequers’ plan, leaving the Customs Union, no deal?  After more than 2 years of negotiations, plans and posturing we are still no clearer on what impact Brexit will have on the UK.

But it’s crunch time.  Northern Ireland businesses have less than 9 months to prepare for the challenges that will face them when the UK withdraws from the EU. Businesses are looking at supply chains to minimise crossing the border.  Production lines are being mechanised in case the rights of non-UK workers are restricted.  There’s talk of stockpiling on a large scale, including, most recently Bombardier of parts worth up to £30m, likely to have a significant strain on their stock management policy.

There is one resource that doesn’t need to be stockpiled as it is already here in abundance.  Women in senior business roles are severely under-represented.  This is despite numerous reports finding that having a diverse board can improve decision-making and ultimately improve company profitability. Diversity is also self-supporting – having a diverse senior management with strong male and female role models is more universally appealing, making it easier to attract top talent.

Despite these reports, the recent results of a survey of FTSE chairs and CEOs as part an independent review aiming to increase women representation on boards highlighted what can only be described as lame excuses for not appointing more women to boards. One excuse that board issues “were too complex” is frankly insulting.  By way of simple illustration, I recently attended the CBI economic lunch briefing at which four out of the five speakers, on what are very complex economic issues against the backdrop of Brexit, were women.

A further excuse of “Shareholders just aren’t interested in the make-up of the board so why should we be?” is easily addressed by the diversity reports – shareholders will certainly be interested if diversity can increase profitability.  This is a simple measure to help combat the challenges of Brexit.

Another excuse that “all the “good” women have been snapped up” also falls flat.  Practical steps need to be taken so eyes can be opened to the wealth of talent available.  The promotion of women based on their achievements and men on their potential is a direct result of unconscious bias by both men and women.  Improving women’s self-confidence and focused mentoring at work will help address this.

A change in culture is also needed.  Women are seen as the main carers for children or sick relatives (as highlighted by the recent headlines that women will need to quit jobs due to a carer shortage post-Brexit).  Positive steps have been taken in the past few years in changing attitudes to women in work such as #TimesUp and shared paternity leave rights but the pace is slow.  There is certainly not going to be a cultural balance by 31 March 2019.  The pace of change can be sped up by employers encouraging a more supportive working environment for women to help develop their talent through, for example, flexible working and reward for high productivity rates.

Expanding the decision makers’ networks is another practical step towards gender balance.  Having more expansive and inclusive networks increases the resource pool to draw ideas and talent.

Implementing these practical steps can help promote a positive, inclusive working environment, encourage the development of women in the workplace, opening businesses to a much wider talent pool and, with more diversity at a senior level, provide the opportunity for increased profitability.  Diversity as a tool to prepare for Brexit?  Now there’s a thought.

If you would like to find out more about effective board composition or the introduction of diversity policies in the workplace, please contact Ciara Lagan, Corporate Partner at Tughans (028 9055 3300; Ciara.lagan@tughans.com).


While great care has been taken in the preparation of the content of this article, it does not purport to be a comprehensive statement of the relevant law and full professional advice should be taken before any action is taken in reliance on any item covered.