Government targets that will force firms to give more top-paid jobs to women have been described as ‘mad’ by the co-founder of FTSE 100 investment giant Hargreaves Lansdown – who added that men tend to be ‘more ambitious and positive’.
Britain’s biggest firms will soon be ordered to ensure that at least one in four of their most highly paid posts are occupied by women.
A Government-backed report – produced by former Standard Chartered chairman Lord Davies – will set fresh targets to help women shatter the glass ceiling on a more regular basis. But the proposals have already received a frosty reception from one major employer.
Peter Hargreaves, the billionaire co-founder of Hargreaves Lansdown, said: ‘I think it’s mad.
‘We’ve always been very pro-women, and having boards with less testosterone can be a good thing. But companies should make these decisions for themselves. I don’t think governments should enforce it.
‘With men you have a bigger pool to choose from – they tend to be more ambitious and positive.’
Hargreaves added that Government targets always created the risk of ‘tokenism’. He said: ‘If there is a woman who is more capable than a man to do the job they should get it.
‘But they shouldn’t get the job just because they are a woman.’
Women now occupy more than a quarter of non-executive roles in the FTSE 100, hitting a target set four years ago by the then business secretary Vince Cable following another inquiry headed by Lord Davies.
But there are still just six female FTSE 100 bosses – Carolyn McCall at EasyJet, Moya Greene at Royal Mail, Alison Cooper of Imperial Tobacco, Liv Garfield of Severn Trent, Alison Brittain of Whitbread, and Véronique Laury of Kingfisher.
Latest figures also show that women account for just 8.6 per cent of directors on FTSE 100 executive committees – the influential management team which sits just below the board.
Lord Davies’s new report will be published in October and firms will have to hit its targets within five years.
Denise Wilson, chief executive of the Davies Review, said: ‘We will focus on executive committees as well as the higher-earning positions in the FTSE 100 companies. It is important to set realistic but stretching targets.’
Luke Hildyard, from the High Pay Centre, welcomed the efforts to increase boardroom diversity but said that the Government should also crack down on ‘obscene pay’.
He said: ‘If the Government is looking at executive culture, it would be a missed opportunity if they didn’t also think about how to reduce the obscene pay levels at the top of big companies and the widening gap between the super-rich and everybody else.’
By James Salmon