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Women should hold quarter of top jobs, says CBI head

January 28, 2016
Diversity & Inclusion

More needs to be done to propel women into the top jobs in Britain’s biggest businesses, to boost economic growth, according to the head of the CBI – who wants all major companies to ensure that a quarter of all senior roles are held by women.

Referring to previous efforts by the government to address the gender balance in Britain’s boardrooms, Carolyn Fairbairn, the first woman to run the employers’ body, said: “It’s important that we broaden the exam question and talk more widely about women as leaders. I believe that this, not women on boards per se, is the real issue.”

Women were held back by the “clubbiness” of business life, which is still focused on the working habits of men, she said. “Too much of UK business is still geared up for men, in terms of its social habits, its small talk, its clubbiness.”

The government is yet to name a replacement for Lord Davies, who set out a voluntary target in 2011 for women to hold 25% of boardroom seats in the FTSE 100 by 2015. Last year he said that at least a third of boardroom positions at Britain’s biggest companies should be held by women by the end of the decade.

But Fairbairn wants there to also be a focus on roles below the boardroom to encourage a pipeline of talent to develop, and avoid the situation where boardrooms are populated by women who hold non-executive directorships, rather than full-time management positions.

“It’s fantastic that women are present in boardrooms in greater numbers. But let’s be clear. Non-executive directors and even chairmen attend between four and 10 board meetings a year. They approve strategy, are guardians of values, challenge decisions and help manage risk,” Fairbairn is expected to say in a speech on Thursday.

“These are important roles, but it is the job of executives to take daily decisions, shape and define strategy, and influence culture through the everyday examples that they set. They are the sleeves-rolled-up leaders in our society,” she will say.

The latest report by Cranfield School of Management showed that 23 boards in the FTSE 250 – the rung below the FTSE 100 – still had all-male boards, with women holding 18% of all boardroom seats.

Fairbairn said that even after the Davies report: “There are just nine more female executive directors on FTSE 350 boards than in 2010 and the number of female chief executives has barely moved.

“We don’t have enough women running things and it is not getting better anything like fast enough.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that developing more women leaders will make a real difference to the success of the UK economy, our productivity and the UK’s future place in the world.”

Picking up on the pledge by the government to conduct a new review of gender balance to build upon the Davies’ report, Fairbairn said: “I’d like to suggest that they draw on the success of the Davies review and establish a new voluntary target of 25% female senior executives in major UK companies. The timeframe would be up to the new review – as would the milestones marking progress along the way.”

“Twenty five per cent is a deliberately ambitious target, but I think that’s appropriate,” she said.

When Davies published his final report he said that FTSE 100 companies had exceeded the target of having 25% women on their boards – more than doubling the number in 2011, when the target was set. At the time, 135 of 1,076 (12.5%) FTSE 100 directorships were held by women.

By Jill Treanor

Source: The Guardian

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