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June 2012
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The Topic of Women in Leadership – An Historical Glance

Posted by: Alex Linley, as part of Capp’s Female Leaders Month (June 2012)

 

The topic of women in leadership, and what we need to do to encourage and enable more women to take seats in the boardrooms of UK plc, have rightly been the attention of much recent interest and debate. In this blog, I’d like to share an historical glance on this same topic.

 

I have been reading The Company Chairman by Sir Adrian Cadbury, also author of the Cadbury Report on corporate governance and a preeminent figure in this field. On page 1 of his introduction, starting in the second paragraph, Sir Adrian states:

 

“One question which needs to be settled at the outset is what title to give to the individual who chairs a board or committee. The straightforward answer is ‘chairman’, but for fear that this might give the misleading impression that all chairmen are male, two other designations have been brought into use, mainly by local government. They are ‘chair’ and ‘chairperson’. The drawback to these two options is that they achieve neutrality of gender at the expense of clear, accepted English.”

 

Sir Adrian continues:

 

“…you can take the chair, or put someone in the chair, but the chair is the position of authority, not the person who is sitting in it…I come back, therefore, to the word ‘chairman’, because…its dictionary definition is both established and precise: ‘The occupier of a chair of authority; the person chosen to preside over a meeting, a company, a corporate body etc.’ (Shorter OED 1975).

 

“It is clear from this definition that the occupier of the chair can be a woman or a man and it is in this sense that chairmen are referred to throughout the book. I make that point, because I regard it as of the first importance that the scales should not appear to be further loaded against women in the male-dominated world of British business; British companies would gain from having more women as board members, which would in turn lead to the appointment of more women as chairmen. In the meantime, anyone who thinks that the term ‘chairman’ excludes women has only to consult the dictionary.” [italics added]

 

This book was published in 1990, yet here we are 20 years later still grappling with the same challenges, albeit with progress being made. What will the next 20 years bring?

 

At Capp, we believe the future is female, and it’s long overdue time to realise more female leadership talent. We’re sure Sir Adrian would have approved.

 

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