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?

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
A boy holds a chick during the Russian National Agricultural Exhibition Golden Autumn 2014 in Moscow on October 9, 2014.
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Graduate Application Support Analyst

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Reach Volunteering: External Finance Trustee Needed!

Voluntary post, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Would you ...

Christine McCleave: FP&A Analyst

£36,000 - £40,000: Christine McCleave: Are you looking for a new opportunity a...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot