Dutch women shun real power of the executive boardroom

The European Commission has been totting it up: in Europe only one in seven executives of stock exchange listed companies is a woman. That is 2 % up from 2010 but at this rate the 40% the Commission wants to see in 2020 equality in the boardroom will take 40 years, NRC writes.

If companies do not open the door to female executives, the Commission may well find other ways of getting its way. It may even resort to legal measures, the paper writes.
The Netherlands has 18.5 % women at the top, with most working for the biggest 20 listed companies. One of these women is Margot Scheltema (57). Scheltema was a financial executive at Shell Nederland and this year she is the only woman in the top ten of most influential non-executive supervisory board members. She is on the supervisory board of TNT Express, Schiphol, ASR Nederland, Triodos Bank, pension fund ABP, Energy research Centre Nederland and the Rijksmuseum.
Scheltema rose quickly in the ranks: in 2010 she hadn’t even made it into the top 50. The Dutch climate has changed, she tells the paper. The European Commission’s directive of 30 % women on the executive board and the supervisory board by 2016 has increased the popularity of women with executive experience considerably, concurs corporate governance professor Mijntje Lückerath. Scheltema herself opted for supervisory board memberships instead of another stint as executive: ‘It’s a more flexible option, with more time for my two sons. It’s easier to plan holidays and days off’, she tells the paper.
The loss of executive power Scheltema takes in her stride. ‘As a member of the supervisory board your influence is less direct. You have to be able to live with that. On the other hand, my work has become more varied, working as I do for very different companies.
Boss over diary
According to corporate Lückerath, women often choose the supervisory board over the executive boardroom. ‘The job is more interesting and you have a chance to be boss over your own diary’, she tells the paper.
But women haven’t always had the luxury to choose between the two. When Neelie Kroes (70) left the transport ministry in 1989 she fully expected to be asked for an executive post at Schiphol or KLM. It didn’t happen. She had her choice of supervisory boards but that is not what she wanted. Her conclusion was that the old boys network had a hand in keeping the boardroom door shut and has been campaigning for a hard quota of female executives ever since.
‘I am surprised women are turning down executive functions in favour of a place on a supervisory board’, Margreeth de Boer (72) says. De Boer, former PvdA minister and on two advisory boards herself, says that talented women at the top of their capacities seem to be satisfied to leave the really influential jobs to men. ‘It’s a pity women don’t want to be at the forefront of where it’s really happening’, she tells the paper.
The figures speak for themselves: it’s easier for women to get on to a supervisory board than claim a seat on the executive board. The Female Board Index shows that the number of supervisory board member was double that of executives. That trend may come to an end, however. The number of supervisory board memberships is going to be limited to 5. Whetehr she will go for the executive coalface Margot Scheltema doesn’t say but ‘I will certainly reconsider my position if I have to renounce two or more supervisory memberships. I’m not financially independent and I have to bring bread to the table’, she says.

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