A letter signed by a number of leaders of industry appeared in the Daily Telegraph on 20 October 2008 under the title “Now more than ever, we need women on boards”. What might this mean from the perspective of boardroom disputes? Does it spell the end of the macho boardroom brawling?
Happily for litigation lawyers everywhere the evidence (at least the anecdotal evidence) suggests otherwise.
The thrust of the letter was to highlight the need to mentor talented senior women who aspire to executive and non-executive board roles. In this respect the collective view of the mentors was “Women contribute to properly balanced boards, and from our personal experience we are clear that their participation has a beneficial impact on the character and culture of the board.”
This is indisputable. However, some go further in recommending the appointment of more women. It has been suggested by some commentators that the addition of more women at board level will help to avoid boardroom disputes. The suggestion seems to be that the presence of women curbs the natural machismo of male directors. When combined with the allegedly more empathetic management approach of women this leads to a more balanced and harmonious board.
My own experience of boardroom disputes and partnership disputes suggests that this theory has little basis in reality. Most disputes are not about machismo but about genuine power struggles to resolve corporate governance or corporate strategy issues. These issues are not gender specific. Often the disputes become overlaid with personal issues and animosity but these issues rarely prevent a commercial settlement being reached. When such issues do become a stumbling block to resolution of the dispute then, in my personal experience, there is nothing to choose between men and women in terms of the amount of emotion invested in the dispute.
Litigation lawyers can sleep soundly in their beds. The rise of women to the top does not threaten their livelihood.
Unless of course they are a male solicitor. As at July 2007 the ratio of men to women in the profession was 56/44. However, this is skewed by the fact that the vast majority of older solicitors are male. The ratio in 2006/2007 for (a) undertaking a law degree (b) being enrolled as a student with the Law Society and (c) qualifying as a solicitor is 60/40 women to men. The boardroom may not yet be a woman’s world but the law is certainly going that way.