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Editorial: CEO Nancy McKinstry addresses diversity at Wolters Kluwer

Nancy McKinstry shares her opinion on the discussion around female board quotas and diversity

‚ÄčThis opinon piece originally appeared in the financial newspaper  Het Financieele Dagblad on October 7, 2014 in Dutch.

Getting women to the top requires effort from the company itself

In Wolters Kluwer’s experience, actively nurturing women has absolutely no negative effects

With the debate about female quotas raging again, there’s fresh focus in the Netherlands on how diversity can best be stimulated. Wolters Kluwer is the only Dutch-listed company that already fulfils the cabinet’s aim to have company boards consist of 30% women by 2016. Some companies might need a quota imposed to reach this goal; but a "female quota" has never been the means or the motivation for Wolters Kluwer.

Half of our 19,000 employees worldwide are female. Of the eight people at the top of Wolters Kluwer, more than a third are women. Since I became CEO in 2003, the number of women in senior positions has risen from 20% to 50%.

We’re certainly proud of the increases we’ve achieved. But we really find it self-evident: our customers are diverse, so we want and need to be diverse, too.

It’s also self-evident that this doesn’t happen by itself. We’ve achieved it within the company through a firm commitment to stimulating diversity of all kinds. Part of that is a conscious, active policy to nurture the best talent, including that of women.

What do we do, in concrete terms? We ensure, for example, good succession planning for managers. We create talent pools at middle management levels.

At Wolters Kluwer, we do much mentoring. For years now, I have been pleased to mentor employees, including of course women, some of whom now hold senior positions in the company.

Besides this, we invest in training and encourage women to network. Externally, we work to ensure women are attracted to Wolters Kluwer and that headhunters do their very best to find female candidates for senior roles.

I also notice that women are often enthused by the fact that Wolters Kluwer has a female CEO, plus many women in top positions. And that despite our operating in a sector – technology – that often appeals less to women. That’s true of the Netherlands, anyway, though it’s different in countries like China and Italy, where our operations are led by women. Two of our four divisions - Legal & Regulatory, and Tax & Accounting – also have female CEOs, and our head of emerging markets is a woman.

KPN, we read last month, has scrapped its preference policy for women because of undesired side effects and because it has only partly brought about the expected change. In our experience,  actively nurturing women creates absolutely no negative effects. We notice that women are exceptionally good at teamwork and at leading diverse teams. This is a not-to-be-underestimated reason to cultivate female talent better. Diversity fosters diversity.

But there are many more reasons. Because let us not forget why diversity – of gender, but also nationality, experience, age, skills – is important for companies. To be able to choose the best man or woman for the job, you need access to the entire talent pool. Diversity also creates more perspectives in discussions, leading to better decision-making – which has direct influence on a company’s results.

Our ultimate priority is developing the most talented people, regardless of their gender, background or life preferences. As a company, we benefit from this. If all companies commit to this, the whole of society will benefit.