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They Don’t ‘Fit’ In: The Lame Excuses Companies Offer for Not Appointing Female Directors

Women wouldn’t “fit comfortably” in the boardroom setting. There aren’t enough women with the right “experience” to handle issues that are “extremely complex.” Women don’t want the “hassle or pressure” of occupying a board seat.

Those are some of the corporate excuses for keeping women out of the boardroom, collected as part of the British government’s review of gender representation in the FTSE 350.

Some of the others:

  • “Shareholders just aren’t interested in the make-up of the board, so why should we be?”
  • “My other board colleagues wouldn’t want to appoint a woman on our board”
  • “All the ‘good’ women have already been snapped up”
  • “We have one woman already on the board, so we are done – it is someone else’s turn”
  • “There aren’t any vacancies at the moment – if there were I would think about appointing a woman”
  • “We need to build the pipeline from the bottom – there just aren’t enough senior women in this sector”
  • “I can’t just appoint a woman because I want to”

To be sure, there’s been significant progress on adding women to the boardroom, both in the U.K. and in the U.S. There are currently 10 FTSE 350 companies with zero female directors, down from 152 in 2011. Among U.S.-based Fortune 500 companies, there are 12 with no women directors, compared to 42 in 2013, and 69 in 2008. (I wrote about the dubious dozen in the latest issue of Fortune.)

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Interestingly enough, Paula Loop, head of PwC’s Governance Insights Center, told me the holdouts are running out of excuses. Investor pressure from the likes of State Street, Vanguard, and BlackRock gives firms a good business reason to make a change. There are also new resources for finding qualified female candidates, and progressive-minded companies have taken to expanding their boards—rather than waiting for vacancies—as they make efforts to diversify.

U.K. lawmakers, it seems, aren’t entertaining their companies’ defenses either. Business Minister Andrew Griffiths called the excuses “pitiful and patronizing.”

You said it, Andy.