Cognitive Proximity

Last week there was an article in SvD commenting on the fact that now more than 50% of the top Swedish female business board members think its time to introduce a law regulating the proportion of men and women in boards. This is a rather big increase since last year when 68% still believed that this inbalance and misuse of resources will adjust rather quickly by itself.

I think that the majority of the comments made to this article are written by men. And the arguments are the usual suspects. One of them I find particularly interesting, since the consequence of the argument is really not a compliment on the intelligence of male board members. The argument goes like this: To have boards requested to consist a certain amount of women is not a good idea, because the women recruited would feel bad about being incompetent and not being able to contribute. This argument is based on a number of interesting assumptions. First, that there is an absolute and universally agreed definition of what competence is needed for each bord of directors. Secondly, that all the men already in all the present boards have this competence and should not be replaced. Thirdly, that very few women have this competence. And so on. But it is also based on a notion of feeling sad for the men still on the board because they will have to take on a totally incompetent woman. Like they would pick just anyone from the street just to fill the quota!?! That I would find insulting if I was a man.

Of course there are plenty of women more competent than many of the men now holding positions in boards. One of the reasons why is that boards seldom review what competence is needed for the company right now, because it is only natural for people to hang on to power. This means that if boards are forced to take on more women they will take the trouble to go looking for the competence needed, and if they take on a broader perspective on knowledge and look a little bit further than they usually do they will find plenty of people to choose from. Sometimes they can be found in a neighbouring country, which is even better from a diversity perspective. This is what has happened in Norway and Finland, who has already started to pick competent Swedish women to their boards.

So, of course there will be a competition for the best, as it always is. And then boards and chairpersons need to work on how to attract the women they want. That will be a challenge since for example tools like www.styrelseplatsen.se that support board work also relentlessy reveals who is active or not in reading, commenting, adding material and so on.