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On quotas - Thoughts from a Female MD

28 September 2016

For over 30 years, I have been working hard at my career, and in 2016 I am proud to be MD of a global recruitment company in the shipping and energy industries. And I’m a woman. You’re probably wondering why it’s necessary that I mention my gender, but really – it’s important. I belong to a group of other recruitment leaders, and when we meet, just like in other management scenarios in my life, I am the only woman at the table.

The volumes of women in senior level roles are improving (In 2010 women made up only 12.5% of the members of the corporate boards of FTSE 100 companies. This was up from 9.4% in 2004*), but we’re still out-numbered. I think shipping is lagging behind other industries. This is possibly due to the fact that you may be more respected in the maritime world if you have a seafaring background, and women account for just 2% of shipping’s seafaring workforce. 2%!

So what can be done about this? Something that is put in place by various business leaders across the world is quotas. And first of all I didn’t agree with them; it felt contrived, forced almost. People should be promoted and hired on their merit, not by their gender purely to fill a quota. But after 30 years in the business, and the publication of the Davis report** there is still no change – so perhaps quotas are the way to go. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of inspirational book Lean In (which I lend to young women in my own teams) described quotas as "unfortunate but necessary".

It has been proven that a mix of genders is needed on a board to increase the profit line, and it makes sense because if you think about it, most organisations are selling to both men and women. So to improve offering you need opinions from men and women to sell to the world. It works for us. Here at Spinnaker, our board is 40% female. I’m proud to work for a company that values women, and I’m proud to be the only woman at the table in those recruitment leader meetings. I wish it was more even, of course, but if I wasn’t there at all, it would be 100% male, and we would be making no progress at all.

In shipping, more work needs to be done. I am the Membership Secretary for WISTA, the membership body for women in shipping, and while great strides are being made, we are still behind other sectors. When an industry is fairly “old school” – built on traditional relationships, historical bonds and so on – it’s hard to break the rules. But we are. Slowly and surely. Education, engagement, and enthusiasm. That’s what is needed to get more women into the industry, to “lean in”, and get to the boardroom table. And I tell you what: it’s hard work, but once you get there, you wouldn’t change it for the world.

- Teresa Peacock, MD, Spinnaker Global - specialists in shipping, energy & logistics recruitment @SG_TPeacock

* https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/31480/11-745-women-on-boards.pdf
** https://www.gov.uk/government/news/women-on-boards