Governance Watch - Issue 14

by Dina Medland in London

Appointments and conflicts 

There are so many good corporate governance reasons to read this story with interest. 

The Bank of England has created a new role of ‘conflicts officer’ in the wake of the events resulting in the resignation of its Deputy Governor, Charlotte Hogg. I covered that story at the time here, on Forbes

As The Guardian reported earlier this week, a senior executive is now to be given the task of monitoring conflicts of interest among Bank of England staff. This follows recommendations in a report by its non-executive directors that was commissioned after Ms Hogg’s resignation in March.

The NED report also recommends that the Bank of England put a system in place to capture and review data on relationships and conflicts. 

On one level, this seems an admirable and quick response a little over four months after the unfortunate resignation cast the Bank of England into the media spotlight. But, as the Guardian story reports: “A scion of one of Britain’s most high-profile political families, Hogg had initially insisted that officials at Threadneedle Street knew Quintin Hogg worked at Barclays before admitting she had not disclosed the role, in breach of the Bank’s code of conduct she had helped to write.”

Not only that, but before Ms Hogg resigned, “there was no requirement for any conflicts to be considered during the recruitment process or by the panel interviewing senior executives.” 

“The report sets out the procedures on conflicts adopted when Hogg first joined the Bank in 2013 in the new role of chief operating officer. The usual processes were not followed and there was only an informal exchange of emails with the then chair of the court” says The Guardian story.

Many observers – and those in listed company boardrooms - will be wondering how this could have been allowed to happen – and what it says about informal networks, corporate governance, and conflicts of interest in appointments. 

In this case, the non-executive directors appear to have exonerated themselves and the BOE from routinely taking conflicts of interest into account in any hires by writing a report after the fact suggesting they do things differently.

At a time when the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is bent on increasing individual senior accountability across the entire financial services industry, it seems bizarre to have to create new roles and systems to do that at such an august financial institution. On the other hand, the more that is spelt out in black and white when it comes to conflict of interest, the better. 

Gender diversity

The world of technology continues to baffle, bemuse and entertain when it comes to the question of gender diversity in its ranks. Stories are regularly told in the media by women struggling to be taken seriously as professionals within its ranks. This time a man told the story himself, as a Google employee hit the headlines for his anti-diversity memo.

It was a rapidly moving story, inspiring strong emotions and many, many words about culture change. Google first rebuked its employee, then it fired him “for perpetuating gender stereotypes.” International media coverage moved on to whether or not the firing was legal

With all the talk about gender, culture and women in STEM, a global perspective is important. There is wide variation in gender ratios in computing internationally, as this story points out. “While only 16% of computer science undergraduates in the UK – and a similar proportion in the US – are female, the balance is different in India, Malaysia and Nigeria” it says. 

But the real concern about the lack of gender diversity in technology businesses and the one for boardrooms to take away is this thought from the piece: “At this early moment in its history, the tech industry is already littered with products that have gender bias effectively programmed into them.”

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