Reader query: sexual health and agency

A reader has sent a query on behalf of a friend of hers who is a bigwig in Planned Parenthood:

I’m looking for some research papers or some writing that looks at the importance of sexual health education for young women as it relates to their self agency, self worth, sense of who they are etc.

Some progress on the PLC board gender gap

At present, women occupy 14.2% of boardroom seats at FTSE 100 companies. There’s a clear consensus opinion among influential bodies that this percentage should increase. The CBI agrees, for example, and so does David Cameron. But both also cleave to the opinion that the imposition of mandatory quotas is not the best way to achieve this. Lord Davies’ report into the issue concurred with both opinions. In February, he proposed that FTSE 100 companies should aim for a target of 25% by 2015, that FTSE 350 companies should set their own goals, that all companies should set out how they intend to achieve their targets, and that shareholders should encourage companies in their endeavours.

There’s often good reason to be sceptical that large companies will make much effort to address such issues without at least the threat of legislative coercion. Such scepticism may have been encouraged when it emerged that only 33% of FTSE 100 companies had complied with Davies’ suggested August deadline for the formulation of policies designed to close their boardroom gender gaps.

However, the Davies report collated a significant amount of research suggesting that companies that narrow this gender gap improve their performance in a number of ways: they access a wider talent pool, their responsiveness to markets is better, their corporate governance improves, and most importantly, their stock market and sales performances improve. Accordingly, major investors have started to take notice, and to pressure companies to take seriously the issue of their boards’ gender balance. In a significant development, Legal and General, an enormous investor in major British companies, has started consistently raising the issue in meetings with the companies in which it has large stakes. It seems that the 250 companies have in the main responded positively, and undertaken to address the matter (as you probably should if one of your most important shareholders tells you to).

It remains to be seen whether this approach will actually deliver much change, and how quickly. Norway introduced a mandatory(and some argue 40% quota in 2003, when representation was 7%, and by the 2008 transition deadline 36% of PLC board seats were filled by women. Such rapid progress seems unlikely to be replicated in the UK without legislation.  Nevertheless, it’s somewhat heartening to see that some progress is being made through shareholder pressure, particularly since it’s most unlikely that legislative pressure will be forthcoming.

Here’s a link to a pdf of the Davies report; the section collating the research mentioned is on pp. 7-10.

The European Professional Women’s Network has a useful stock of reports, research, and articles on boardroom gender gaps here.

Power Posing, Gender, and Class Participation

“As human creatures, we are hard wired to recognize subtle, non-verbal cues that communicate all kinds of information about the people around us. This video from Amy Cuddy of the Harvard Business School discusses research that found that just putting our bodies into Power Poses actually can make us more confident and have the bonus feature of making people more receptive to our ideas.” (This quote is from an excellent Gradhacker piece called Empowering Our Grad School Selves by Andrea Zellner.

What’s interesting about Cuddy and her research into power poses is the story behind what motivated it. She and other professors at the Harvard Business School were concerned about the gender differences in participation marks which make up half the grade for classes in the business school. They wanted to know whether women actually spoke less or whether they were just seen as less influential. The clip of Cuddy explaining about power poses and their impact on our perception of one another sounds fascinating. It’s certainly worth watching. I’m going to track down some of the scholarly work because this phenomena clearly has effects also on people with disabilities which would limit one’s ability to assume a power pose.