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Is the Chamber championing diversity and gender balance?
At the beginning of this year Cornwall Chamber of Commerce decided to increase our Board from 8 to 10/12 to enhance our geographical, size and sector profile. Our Board has traditionally been a 50/50 split female/male, although Directors are not appointed on gender but on merit. The Chamber looks at skills, business diversity, sector representation and commitment to ensure that it meets its remit to inspire, connect, champion and support businesses in Cornwall. Having said that, we were delighted that our Board was perfectly gender balanced but being (reasonably), modest we didn’t publicise the fact.
In March this year we appointed one of our Directors as our new Chair - who happens to be a woman - and advertised the new Board positions transparently through our member messaging (as a membership organisation, you must be a member to be on our Board). We received multiple applications from a broad sector base but only one woman applied, and unfortunately, she wasn’t a member, – why?
Kim and I were perplexed and asked several female members who would have been brilliant Directors to tell us why they hadn’t applied. The response was varied but it boiled down to outside commitments, family, dependents, managing the household, etc. Or confidence.
The Board met and appointed 3 new Board members, all of whom are brilliant in their field and will significantly add to the skills, sector representation and geographical make up of the Board, they also happened to be male and over 40.
We released a press release on Tuesday and have since been inundated with comments on the theme of ‘male, pale and stale’, ‘men of the 80’s’, ‘men in grey suits’. Our members and guests who meet us see that we have an executive team comprised mainly of young women, and the leadership team is also 50/50 male/female.
Anyone who attends our events regularly will know that there is an equal gender split, a mix of youth and experience and many vibrant characters present. Take a look at the photos of our Charity Ball, but be warned… wear sunglasses! 😉 So why is the Chamber perceived by the wider business community as male biased, stuffy and ageist?
I have personally run two female entrepreneurship projects, regularly do talks to inspire the next generation of men and women and helped set up Leading Women in Cornwall with the awesome Rachel Jones. It’s my passion, and one that is fully supported by Kim, the Board and the rest of the Chamber team – in fact one of our key themes for 2019 is Women and Leadership.
I need help. My challenge to our members and the wider business community is to help us answer the following questions:
- How do we change the perception that being a member of the Chamber is only for big businesses, or ‘men in grey suits’? We have every size and sector of business from sole traders to national and international companies as members who meet, talk, laugh, become trusted colleagues and do business with each other. The diversity of our membership is astonishing if you only look.
- How do we encourage more women to apply for our Board or other Boards in Cornwall – is there an unconscious bias, are positions advertised in the wrong way?
- Why is only gender diversity singled out? Our Board would have been delighted to see applications from younger entrepreneurs, however the average age for applicants was 45+. Looking at Boards in Cornwall there is a significant lack of younger business people engaged in governance (to our knowledge but we would be happy to be proved wrong and are actively looking for examples).
Please comment and share the knowledge. We honestly want to discuss these questions so feel free to email, comment on this post or ring us.