It is difficult to discover any logical, non-religious explanation for the decision by the General Synod last week to deny the right of women to become Bishops. Arguments, such as they are, date back to Jesus' choice of twelve male disciples, the deliberate gender segregation in Christianity, establishing 'God as the Father' and other similar lines of debate. These arguments are predicated on religion being above the law. There are no justifiable, evidential arguments for women not to be Bishops, as the leaders of the Church of England have recognised, women possess all of the characteristics needed to do the job in equal measure to men.
The church is currently outside sex discrimination legislation, being given that exemption on the basis that it would put its own house in order. Equalities legislation has been in place since the mid-1970s and the church clearly hasn't put its house in order, that should be evidence enough that these exemptions are inappropriate, aside from further, wider and deeper concerns about any organisation seeing itself as outside or above the law. Parliament must reflect the broader concerns of the whole society and there are no legitimate or credible supporters of sex discrimination, it is a throwback to another time.
It is not just the church that needs reform. Earlier this month the European Commission set out its intention to legislate on female representation on Company Boards. Like few other parts of society company boards are entirely male-dominated; men occupy 91.1 per cent of executive board positions and 85 per cent of non-executive positions. In the UK the figures are slightly better for non-executive directors (18.7 per cent) but slightly worse for executive directors (6.5 per cent) while on 6 per cent of UK Chief Executives are women. The Commission has suggested 40 per cent of non-executive director roles should be carried out by women.
Some die-hards will see this as unnecessary or window-dressing but there are sound economic arguments for improving the gender make-up of boards of directors. A number of studies show that boards with better gender balance perform better economically and have stronger corporate governance regimes; there is a more accurate mirroring of the market companies operate in; quality of directors is enhanced from tapping into a wider and deeper pool of talent; and there is evidence to show that diversity on boards (or anywhere) leads to increased creativity and innovation.
In companies, as with the church, there are no logical, credible reasons that women should not occupy the most senior positions. In fact, there's a growing morality and social argument to suggest that they should, as well as strong business arguments and a common-sense view of the modern world which demands an end to such obvious discrimination, as reflected by the leadership of the synod and many sensible voices in business. Despite these voices, self-regulation has failed to deliver change effectively or quickly enough. It's time to legislate to bring these bodies into the 21st Century.
Issued: 26 November, 2012