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Women bring radical new perspectives to the board - Inspire / Harvey Nash report

Women are bringing a much needed source of emotional intelligence to the top table and as a result improving a board's ability to innovate, make consensual decisions and connect with customers and staff. This is according to a survey by Inspire, the business network for senior board level women supported by Harvey Nash.

13th March 2012, London / New York

The survey, completed by 326 board-level executives across 19 countries and part of Inspire's Return on Diversity report, revealed that almost two-thirds of respondents (64%) believe women are bringing a greater level of emotional intelligence (EI) to the board which in turn brings greater cultural understanding (91% believed better EI boosted the board's ability in this area), better board consensus (80%) and greater creativity and innovation (75%). 

In addition the survey revealed that 92% believe that women bring new and different perspectives to the board, with participants' comments ranging from how women took a different approach to risk through to how they offer greater pragmatism in decision making. 

But whilst most people agreed greater emotional intelligence at board level had a positive impact on the 'soft' attributes of the board, there was much less consensus about how this affected other attributes. For instance most (60%) respondents believed having greater board EI had either no affect or - in the case of one in eight - a negative affect, on its ability to make bold decisions. This was even more pronounced when looking at speed of decision making where 68% believed EI had no positive effect, 13% of which felt it was negative.

Carol Rosati co-founder of Inspire and director of Harvey Nash said: "At a time when companies are desperately seeking new ways to create revenue streams through innovation and entering new markets, the need for creative thinking and cultural understanding of customers and staff has never been greater. This survey shows that companies bringing on women onto boards can be one way they achieve great board emotional intelligence, and in turn better board effectiveness. But whilst the survey shows greater board EI is an overwhelmingly positive thing, it also shows that it can make boards operate differently. Boards must recognise that becoming diverse is more than just a change in their make up; it can often create a change in their approach altogether."

The survey also looked at how to achieve greater female board membership. Respondents overwhelmingly rejected the idea of government quotas (only 6% supported this option) preferring the emphasis to be on companies to cultivate and develop their own female talent pipeline (48%). A further 29% of respondents believed the main barrier to female progression was attitudes amongst C-level male executives.

Alexa Bailey, co-founder of Inspire and consultant at Harvey Nash said: "Women are not looking for a 'prop' to help them into senior roles but instead, a change in attitude from the board itself. A specific case in point is the Nomination and Governance appointment Committee. All too often the selection criteria for new board members is based on whether the person has had previous experience at board level, rather than 'does this person have the right set of skills and values to do the job?'  It's an important difference especially if we are going to evolve the talent pipeline for future board leaders. Another change is around support given in both the domestic and professional sphere.  Achieving gender balance in the boardroom and at the executive level, requires support both in the workplace and at home, where domestic support services, childcare and supportive partners have a powerful impact on an executive's ability to focus on work."


About Inspire's Return on Diversity report

The survey was conducted online from November 2011 to January 2012 and reflected the views of 326 senior decision makers made up of 17% CEOs, 31% board level executives, 20% non-executive directors and 32% executives in other categories. 77% of responses were from the UK and the US, with the remaining spread amongst seventeen other countries.

Inspire's Report Return on Diversity contains the key findings from the survey as well as detailed commentary from: 

  • E. Mervyn Davies - Lord Davies of Abersoch
  • Umran Beba - CEO, PepsiCo Asia Pacific
  • Allan Cook - Chairman, WS Atkins
  • Mary R. "Nina" Henderson - Trustee, Drexel University and Drexel College of Medicine, Director, Visiting Nurse Service New York
  • Diana Brightmore-Armour - CEO, Corporate Banking, Lloyds Banking Group
  • Eva Au -  MD, IDC Asia / Pacific Astrid Clifford, CEO, HSBC Bank Armenia
  • Fiona Woolf CBE - Alderman, City of London Corporation
  • Lady Susan Rice CBE - MD, Lloyds Banking Group, Scotland 
  • Marie Staunton - CEO, Plan UK
  • Benjamin Akande Ph.D - Dean of Webster University's George Herbert
  • Walker School of Business & Technology

About Inspire

Established in 2008 and supported by Harvey Nash Inspire provides an environment in which senior business women from the private and public sectors can share and exchange ideas and experiences with their peers. Each year, Inspire hosts events for more than 1000 women members made up exclusively of female board operators, Chairs, CEOs and Partners in Private Equity and Venture Capital firms.
Inspire are proud category sponsors of the First Women Awards, taking place on June 28th 2012. 

About Harvey Nash 

Harvey Nash, a global professional recruitment consultancy and IT outsourcing service provider, is committed to delivering the very best talent and IT solutions to a broad base of international clients. The Group is a trusted advisor to some of the world's leading business, governments and institutions. Operating from 40 offices covering the USA, Europe and Asia, its talented professionals pursue the highest levels of integrity and quality in providing a unique portfolio of services: executive search, interim management, IT and finance recruitment and IT outsourcing.

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