“Women as Agents of Change” is the theme of the Commonwealth Summit opened by the Queen on 28 October in Perth. Leaders of the 16 Commonwealth countries where the Queen is Head of State unanimously approved reforms to royal succession laws dating back more than 300 years which will give sons and daughters of any future UK monarch equal rights to the throne. This change brings the British royal family belatedly into line with other European monarchies — Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg — which already have equal laws of succession. The Queen said that the reforms “remind us of the potential in our societies that is yet to be fully unlocked and encourage us to find ways to allow all girls and women to play their full part”.
This historic change comes in the same month that the Financial Reporting Council announced changes to the UK Corporate Governance Code to strengthen boardroom diversity. The changes will require listed companies to report annually on their boardroom diversity policy, including gender, and to consider the diversity on a board when evaluating its effectiveness.
These proposals follow Lord Davies’ review of boardroom gender inequality in February this year and coincide with the publication of the Cranfield School of Management’s progress report on boardroom diversity. The Cranfield report reveals that the number of women in board positions has increased in the last year, but not to the level recommended by Lord Davies. The report also highlights the importance of having female role models in top companies as evidence of the ability to progress and to encourage women’s career success. Colonel Gaddafi having recently failed in his bid to become the world’s longest-serving ruler, the Queen’s own position as role model to women across the generations certainly looks secure.
Interestingly, recent figures show that the gender pay gap in the UK has narrowed and that for the first time women aged 22-29 now earn more than their male counterparts. Mary Curnock Cook, Chief Executive of the Universities and Colleges Admission Service, believes that the figures are recognition of the higher academic standards achieved by women leaving school and university. Although it is thought that it may take another generation for this trend to feed up to the more senior workforce, these recent events are certainly (or at least hopefully) signs of change to come.