Male, pale & stale: Could more women on the board help Mothercare – and other ailing firms?

The retailer's critics say its management is out of touch. Now the PM has returned to the issue of females in boardrooms

It boasts that it is visited by four out of every five expectant mothers in the UK, takes £420m a year from its – 84 per cent female – customers and claims to be "the No 1 retailer for mums-to-be and parents alike". Yet the boardroom of the beleaguered baby brand Mothercare remains overwhelmingly dominated by men.

There is only one woman on the board at Mothercare, which last week appointed Lovefilm's chief executive – and new father – Simon Calver to lead a board whose average age is 58. Amanda Mackenzie, a non-executive director, says the firm has "every intention" for her not to be the only woman.

Mr Calver's appointment as chief executive at one of Britain's leading retailers for women highlights complaints that too many FTSE 100 boards are overwhelmingly "pale, male and stale". Maxine Benson, founder of the Everywoman business network, said: "Diversity is about profitability. It is not about gender, but about recognising that companies with women at the top outperform those without, because they are more innovative."

Such complaints were given extra relevance by a warning from David Cameron last week that Britain's economy will "fail" unless more women are promoted into boardrooms. He said business leaders had not made sufficient progress in ensuring women get top jobs and would consider "golden skirt quotas" as a last resort.

"The case is overwhelming that companies are run better if we have men and women alongside each other," Mr Cameron said, suggesting that the economy loses £40bn a year because of the lack of gender balance. "If we can't get there in other ways, I think we have to have quotas." The Government has called on firms to more then double the number of women in boardrooms by 2015.

Leading businesswomen question whether it is good sense to have decisions made overwhelmingly by men. Liz Field, the chief executive of the Financial Skills Network, said: "Considering the purchasing power of women, every organisation needs to look carefully at the makeup of its board. The more in tune you are with the marketplace, the better able you are to react to their needs."

Laura Tenison, the founder of JoJo Maman Bebe, a baby and child clothing retailer, said Mothercare's international growth has been impressive, but she feels "it has taken its eye off its core British market". She said: "Mothercare was an entrepreneurial business: I feel they have forgotten their core brand values."

Her business, with a £30m turnover, has five women on the board. "I think a lot of the skills needed to run a business are very similar to those that women deploy in the home anyway," she said. "If you can offer people the appearance of giving them 100 per cent of your attention when really half your mind is occupied with something else, then you have reached that level of success."

Ms Benson said: "Decisions should be reflective of customers: how can Mothercare possibly reflect the needs of customers if their board does not think like its customers? The new chief executive is a brand and multichannel expert, and they now have the opportunity to bring people in to reflect their customers, to bring in family-friendly policies that resonate with their customers."

Mothercare used to be a high street essential for new mums. While it is hugely successful overseas, it will close a third of its stores in the UK after £18.5m losses last year.

While insiders blame former management, many mothers feel the retailer has become out of touch. Mother-to-be Claire Vivyan, 30, in north-west London, said it seemed "old-fashioned and overpriced", while Emma Reid, 33, a solicitor living in Edinburgh and mother of three-year-old Rufus, said she remembers trying on maternity clothes, but found Mothercare shops "lacking in the personal touch". Both Liz Droznika, 32, mother of seven-month-old Olivia, and Jessica Doughty, 31, art director and mother of 10-month-old William, said they would go to John Lewis for advice, and would not consider asking staff at Mothercare. They described the stock as "overpriced and dated".

Firms with the most women on their boards outperform those with the fewest on sales by 42 per cent, according to research by Catalyst, which promotes women in business.

Last year, ministers accepted the Lord Davies report that recommended that by 2015 women should make up 25 per cent of all boards. Currently only 15 per cent of FTSE 100 directors are women, as are five of the 22 members of the Cabinet.

Suggested Topics
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
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

Derivatives Risk Commodities Business Analyst /Market Risk

£600 - £800 per day: Harrington Starr: Derivatives Risk Commodities Business A...

Power & Gas Business Analyst / Subject Matter Expert - Contract

£600 - £800 per day: Harrington Starr: Power & Gas Business Analyst/Subject Ma...

Infrastructure Lead, (Trading, VCE, Converged, Hyper V)

£600 - £900 per day: Harrington Starr: Infrastructure Lead, (Trading infrastru...

Planning Manager (Training, Learning and Development) - London

£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glob...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering