The 2018 update to the UK Corporate Governance Code has replaced 'chairman' for the gender neutral 'chair', raising a very interesting debate.
We know that there is a gender gap on boards, and we know that boards which are more diverse tend to be more successful. But is replacing chairman for chair, the only way to encourage this?
I read an argument in the comments to this article that in doing this, we might as well change 'mankind' to 'kind' and 'human race' to 'hu race'. The challenge is more about changing the meaning to the term rather than the term itself.
For me, it is the connotations associated with a sterotypical chairman. Automatically, you have a mental image of what 'Mr Chairman' should look like (my mental image is of the bank scene from Mary Poppins) and I can see how this could be offputting to a person who doesn't fit that stereotype (good old imposter syndrome!).
What we need to see is more boards that are genuinely and actually diverse. Where the chair is a female and/or an ethnic minority, and where the make up of the board isn't 90% middle aged men. The statistics show that despite all our efforts, only six FTSE 100 companies have a female chair.
Having more visibly diverse boards and role models would hopefully give those aspiring to board/chair positions, the confidence to apply for these roles.
I am the current chair to the board of Future Boss Club, which is a network for young females to encourage their personal and professional development with a view to bridging the gender gap we see in so many industries, and one of our mantras is 'you can't be what you can't see'.
So while this change, for me, is a welcome move, I would hope that the efforts don't stop there. There is so much more to be done before we can say our governance system in the UK is truly diverse.
PS I've been chair on a number of boards and I don't even own a pinstripe suit!
“If you close your eyes, and think of a chairman or a CEO, the image you get is of a man in his late 60s with salt-and-pepper hair and a pinstripe suit.”