Women in Power: exploring the positive influence of women on boards of directors

Professor Sheila Ellwood, Professor of Financial Reporting at the University of Bristol, outlines her research on the influence of presence and position of women on the boards of directors of NHS Foundation Trusts.

Professor Sheila Ellwood, Professor of Financial Reporting, University of Bristol.

Across the UK and more widely, there are moves to increase the number of women on boards. Some countries have quotas, such as Norway, Spain and Iceland. Some countries require companies to “comply or explain”, as in the UK, Denmark and Sweden. Other measures are less explicit. The rationale is largely to improve female representation and increase board diversity in public and private sector corporate governance.

Along with Javier Garcia-Lacalle, a colleague from the Universidad Zaragoza in Spain, I undertook a study to look at the impact of greater female representation. We examined the influence of women on the boards of directors of NHS Foundation Trusts in England, and the resulting implications.

How does the position of women and high levels of gender diversity on boards of directors affect organisational performance when social performance is paramount?

We found that once a critical mass of women in decision-making positions on boards has been reached, there is little further effect on performance. A high female presence among executive and non-executive directorships does not result in significant differences either in financial goals or service quality. There is no effect on financial performance; positive or detrimental.

Equally, evidence suggests that female presence on boards positively affects corporate social performance[1]. Women are considered more socially oriented than men, resulting in more effective board decision-making, particularly on aspects related to social responsibility.

However, we found that in order for female presence to be effective, women need to be in the most prominent position on boards: Chief Executive or Chair. This is particularly important if boards are to achieve corporate social objectives.

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‘Made in China’ vs. ‘made in the EU’: what’s the difference?

Dr Rutvica Andrijasevic, Senior Lecturer in Management

Dr Rutvica Andrijasevic,
Senior Lecturer in Management, University of Bristol

Foxconn, a Taiwanese-owned firm best known for being the main assembler of Apple products and for harsh working conditions at its Chinese factories, is the world’s largest electronics contract manufacturer. While Foxconn also operates in Europe, it is from its factories in mainland China that we hear of militarised disciplinary regime, excessive and unpaid overtime, unhealthy and unsafe working conditions and forced student labour.

Just how different is the situation in Europe? I set out to answer this question three years ago along with my colleague Devi Sacchetto from the University of Padua. We conducted 63 interviews in the Czech Republic and 29 in Turkey with current and former Foxconn workers and managers, trade union representatives, government officials and NGOs.

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Latest employment tribunal statistics confirm loss of access to justice for workers

Professor Nicole Busby, Strathclyde University

Professor Nicole Busby, Strathclyde University

If we needed further proof that the Coalition’s policy of charging claimants to bring cases to the Employment Tribunal (ET) posed a serious threat to access to justice in employment disputes, the latest ET statistics published by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) provide it.

The most recent figures, which cover April to June 2014, show that the downward trend in the number of claims brought, which has been recorded for every quarter since fees were introduced in July 2013, has continued. Single claims have fallen by 70% compared with the same period in 2013, with multiple claims down from 1500 to just 500. Furthermore, the introduction in April 2014 of Acas’s early conciliation scheme has had an impact on the number of claims lodged.

Under the scheme, there is a mandatory requirement that Acas must be notified of any dispute before an ET claim can be made. This is to facilitate efforts to settle the dispute. One effect of this is that cases which do end up with the ET now face a time lag of about a month while Acas has an opportunity to intervene. Another effect is that the statistics for April to June 2014 are not directly comparable with the same period in 2013. Nevertheless, there is still a significant reduction.

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Tribunal fees mean workers can’t afford a fair hearing

Professor Morag McDermont, Professor of Socio-Legal Studies, University of Bristol

Professor Morag McDermont, Professor of Socio-Legal Studies, University of Bristol

It’s been a year since the government introduced fees for workers making a claim to an employment tribunal. The most recent statistics show that this has led to an 81% decrease in cases. This has profoundly worrying consequences for the future of employment law. Workers who have been unfairly dismissed, subjected to unlawful discrimination, or who have simply not been paid for work they have done now have severely limited access to justice.

So why has the sudden drop happened? Have employment relations in the UK suddenly improved? No. The reason is simply that the vast majority of workers who find themselves in dispute with their employers (or ex-employers, since many claims relate to dismissal) can no longer afford to seek justice.

Professor Nicole Busby, Strathclyde University

Professor Nicole Busby, Strathclyde University

The coalition government introduced the fees regime largely thanks to unsubstantiated assertions that employment tribunals provided a charter for workers to make unmerited claims and vexatious appeals. The restriction of access to justice on the basis of ability to pay may seem like a contradiction in terms, and the level at which fees have been set is far higher than those for making a comparable claim in the County Court.

In order to even submit a form which enables a claim to be lodged in the system, a worker must now pay between £160 and £250 depending on the nature of the claim. If the claim goes to a hearing, the aggrieved worker must pay a further £230 or £950. This means that in order for many serious claims to be resolved, alleged victims must pay £1200 alongside any other related costs. It is hardly surprising that four out of five people now decide not to proceed.

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