Like 'swallowing a toad'? The battle to put women on company boards

Female directors are becoming more commonplace with FTSE 100 firms,  but they are still very much in the minority

A German politician likened it to swallowing a toad, and last week a Conservative think-tank founded in the 1950s claimed it could cost the UK economy £80bn.

What heinous abomination could these respected gentlemen be talking about?

Wait for it – the terrible thing referred to is… women on boards.

Last year, when Germany implemented a national quota of 30 per cent for the proportion of women on boards, the CDU parliamentarian Michael Fuchs was reported to have said: “It’s a toad that we’re going to have to swallow.”

Then last week the Bow Group issued a paper – authored by the London MEP Mariana Yannakoudaki and based on the group’s research from Norway’s experience of quotas – that if EU plans for quotas for women on boards were enforced here the cost could be £80bn.

At this point the UK has no intention of instigating quotas and is instead focused on the targets set by Lord Davies and his 2011 government report.

This month a new milestone was reached – 20 per cent of all directors and 25 per cent of non-executive directors are women.

Meanwhile, the London Stock Exchange – after being criticised for its all-male board – appointed two female non-executive directors, Sherry Coutu and Joanna Shields, this month.

Lord Davies believes the best way to meet his targets is by appointing women as non-xecutives. Seven out of 10 of all board positions are non-executive and the FTSE 100 needs 51 more board seats to be held by women to reach Lord Davies’s 25 per cent target for next year.

Jane Scott, UK director at Professional Boards Forum, says: “It takes a long time to find and recruit people, so there is a steady but slow turnover. Non-executives are very important – they oversee many processes – but more women executive directors are obviously very important too.”

The London Stock Exchange has appointed Sherry Coutu and Joanna Shields, pictured, as non-executive directors The London Stock Exchange has appointed Sherry Coutu and Joanna Shields, pictured, as non-executive directors (AFP/Getty Images)
The headhunter Moira Benigson, founder of MBS Group, warns that although the country’s top 100 firms have begun to appoint female non-executives, the number of executive posts is still woefully small.

Last week, it was announced that Shire had appointed Susan Kilsby to become chairman at the end of April. She will be only the second woman to chair a FTSE 100 company, after Land Securities’ Alison Carnwath.

Ms Benigson, who recently placed the former Burberry finance director Stacey Cartwright in the top job at Harvey Nichols, is worried about the departure of female chief executives in the FTSE 100 index.

She says: “We are losing Burberry’s Angela Ahrendts to America and this is very sad. We need to up the number of FTSE 100 female chief executives and chairmen. Some private companies appear to be taking the lead in terms of executive positions.

“It is now relatively easy to appoint women non-executives. The targets set really should be achievable. Soon we should be able to easily get to 60:40. But executive roles is the next big question.”

Louise Angel at the executive search firm Ridgeway Partners notes the difficulties recruiters face: “A lot of women we see have chosen to go plural – to hold a portfolio of non-executive positions – because it suits their lifestyle. After taking a break to have children, a woman who was previously in a management position may want to return to work, but will choose non-executive positions rather than a full-time executive role. But this trend represents a real risk to our progress on greater female representation in management.”

The fact remains that only 7.2 per cent of executive directors are women in blue-chip groups.

The FTSE 100 has just four female chief executives – Carolyn McCall at easyJet, Moya Green at Royal Mail, Alison Cooper at Imperial Tobacco and Burberry’s Ms Ahrendts. And by the time the latter leaves to join Apple in the spring, Liv Garfield will be in charge at Severn Trent.

But which companies are still on the black list? After LSE’s recent hires only two FTSE 100 companies remain all male.

Carolyn McCall, who works at easyJet, is one of just four FTSE 100 female chief executives Carolyn McCall, who works at easyJet, is one of just four FTSE 100 female chief executives (AFP/Getty Images)
The Chilean-based copper miner Antofagasta and the mining and commodity giant Glencore Xstrata have both failed to appoint a single woman at board level. But apparently they are trying.

A Glencore spokesman pleads: “Glencore values and promotes diversity across its business. The appointment of a female board member is a significant consideration and our nominations committee is working to identify appropriate female candidates.”

For its part Antofagasta says it is “in the process of seeking a female candidate for board membership”.

But is one woman on each board enough?

Annabel Parsons, a partner at Heidrick & Struggles, said: “We know that a minimum of three are needed on a board to change dynamics effectively; many women are still sitting as single or duo females on otherwise all-male boards.

So perhaps quotas – forcing companies to appoint women – could be the answer despite what the Bow Group claims?

Last week at Davos, Christine Lagarde, head of the  International Monetary Fund, and Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, sat on a panel and discussed the need for quotas.

Ms Lagarde, who had been opposed to quotas originally, said: “I soon realised that unless we had targets, if not quotas, there was no way to make headway.” She added that quotas were “unfortunate but necessary”.

Talking on a panel in Davos, Sheryl Sandberg debated the need for quotas alonside IMF's Christine Lagarde Talking on a panel in Davos, Sheryl Sandberg debated the need for quotas alonside IMF's Christine Lagarde
But the fund manager Helena Morrissey, who founded the 30 per cent Club, argues that the best route to change is through training and mentoring programmes to help create a generation of “board-ready” females, rather than through forced quotas.

Annoushka Ducas, a jeweller, businesswoman and a member of Lord Brown’s steering board for his 2011 report, agrees.

She says: “I am hopeful that the 2015 targets outlined in the report by Lord Davies will be met without the implementation of mandatory quotas.

“We must remember that women continue to be indispensable to their employees across all areas and levels of business.”

Helena Morrissey says training and mentoring programmes should be set in place to instigate change Helena Morrissey says training and mentoring programmes should be set in place to instigate change (Getty Images)
Lord Davies may indeed see his target reached by next year – but will Antofagasta, Glencore and others have moved out of the dark ages?

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Training/Learning and Development Coordinator -London

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Training/Learning and Development Co...

Training Programme Manager (Learning and Development)-London

£28000 - £32000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manage...

.NET Software Developer (.NET, C#, ASP.NET, front-end)

£30000 - £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A Global Financial Service Organi...

C# Web developer (C#,MVC,ASP.NET,SQL)

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: C# Web d...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried