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UK now backs gender targets for firms outside FTSE 100

Women in Politics

Vince Cable wants the 350 biggest companies listed in London to adopt targets for female representation in boardrooms and step up efforts to address the“serious deficiency” of women in the most senior corporate jobs.

The business secretary has championed a voluntary target set by Lord Davies that 25% of directors on boards of the UK’s 100 biggest companies should be women by 2015.

Cable said he would also like to see a target set for the top 350 companies, which would include the next rung of companies below those in the FTSE 100, and include businesses such as Halfords, which has named Jill McDonald as its new boss.

Davies is due to publish a progress report on Wednesday, with the last count showing that women held 22.8% of boardroom positions on FTSE 100 companies. Cable said he was “pretty confident” companies would meet the 2015 targets set by Davies for FTSE 100 companies, although there were no guarantees. “We now need 21 more women to be signed up this year so we are almost at the finishing tape but not quite,” he said recently.

Cable’s remarks were revealed as chancellor George Osborne called for more women to train an engineers, as he launched a £12m donation for Imperial College in London to build a new school of engineering.

Cable and Davies wrote to all FTSE 350 companies last year asking them to take further steps to promote gender balance, including the appointment of one more woman to their board. But Cable has now said that a voluntary target would be useful for listed companies outside the FTSE 100, where performance has been “less stellar”.

“Yes I think it would be useful. Metrics are always useful, because they enable you to establish whether you are going forwards or backwards.”

Davies decided against setting a 25% target for smaller listed companies, because he felt it was beyond their reach. In the FTSE 250, women hold 17.4% of director positions, up from 7.8% in 2011.

Cable insisted that the government’s voluntary approach was working, although he has warned that the European Union could impose mandatory quotas if the 25% target is missed.

But the business secretary argued that companies should be aiming much higher than 25% female representation in the boardroom. “We are a long way off equal representation. This is an area where the government does reasonably well. In my department, which is one of the biggest in Whitehall, in the top board and top 200 managers we have 50-50 representation. There is no reason why companies shouldn’t be in the same position.”

Cable said all companies still had “a serious deficiency” of women in the chairmanship role and executive positions – the chief executive and chief finance officer jobs – “where the real power and decision-making lies”.

Recent research by the Guardianshowed there are more men called John running FTSE 100 companies than all the female bosses put together. Among chief executives and chairs of FTSE 100 companies, there were 17 men called John (or Jean) – and seven female bosses. Men called David or Dave outnumbered women by 2 to 1.

Cable said the government had to provide the right legislative framework, citing the legislation on shared parental leave. But said it was up to companies to take “creative and long-term” plans to ensure that women were progressing through the ranks.

“The one thing I have learned in this whole process is that it is the deeper executive pipeline issues that are more intractable and more important.

“This is a long-term exercise and it is about building up a pipeline that involves engaging women in their late 20s and early 30s and making sure they are able to progress, particularly those who take time out for families.”

The business secretary said he had seen some cases of “old-fashioned prejudice lurking near the surface” and that the government had a role to put moral pressure on companies. “Things just don’t happen by accident and you do have to keep working and encouraging and naming names.”

Source – The Guardian

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