David Prosser: The bubbles should have gone flat long ago for Veuve Clicquot's awards

The endurance of the Veuve Clicquot awards underlines why it was a mistake to reject thecase for compulsory quotas for women on boards of directors

Congratulations to Michelle McDowell, who was crowned the Veuve Clicquot Businesswoman of the Year last night. But doesn't it say everything about the failure of companies large and small to promote women to senior posts that this award still exists?

Veuve Clicquot first came up with the idea of this awards scheme in 1972. "Each year tells the story of inspiring women who are high achievers in business life," the company explains. "Theirstories are an encouragement and motivation to younger, aspiring women."

That's the point. That we still need to make a big deal aboutsuccessful women in business in order to encourage and motivate those who aspire to follow them instantly tells you two things: that there aren't enough of these success stories and that young women need special encouragement because they face more obstacles than their male counterparts. There is something deeply depressing about the idea that almost 40 years after this award was launched, successful businesswomen still need some sort of extraordinary recognition. Had Britain done a better job on equality of opportunity, this is an award that would have seemed anachronistic many years ago.

One of the speakers at last night's awards bash was Lord Myners, the former City minister. No offence intended, but it would have been more interesting to hear from his old ministerial colleague Lord Davies, whose report into how to increase the number of women serving in the boardrooms of Britain's largest public companies (a narrow proxy for women in business, but a start) was published a few weeks ago. The inquiry's proposals included many decent ideas, but fell short of the one reform that would have guaranteed a step-change in female representation at the highest level of British business – the introduction of compulsory quotas for women directors.

The endurance of the Veuve Clicquot awards underlines why that was a mistake. We have now been talking in this country about building a business environment in which women can thrive for four decades. And until we force companies to ensure that more women rise to the top, we'll go on having to do such talking.

Many businesses, including some run by women, object to quotas because they believe there are insufficient numbers of women with the talents and experience required for the posts that would fall vacant were they suddenly to have to ensure that, say, 30 per cent of directors were female.

If that is the case, we should ask why women of such calibre are in such short supply. All but the most unreconstructed of business leaders are rapidly going to conclude that the only answer can be that there must be barriers that damage women's career prospects long before they get to the position of being considered for board-level jobs. And what might force companies to begin addressing thosebarriers? Well, being presented with a choice between having to appoint mediocre candidates to the board or falling foul of a legally-binding quota would certainlyconcentrate minds.



The banks remain one step ahead

With less than a week to go before the end of the tax year, Consumer Focus published a timely study into the cash individual savings account (Isa) market yesterday: it warned that two-thirds of savers who open an account offering an introductory bonus rate of interest fail to switch to a new provider once the deal comes to an end. The alert is another example of how the developing relationship between the banking industry and its customers continues to be fraught.

It is now more than 20 years since people first began to wake up to the idea that banks did not always offer their customers the best possible deal. That realisation seeded the growth of what has become an industry in its own right, with all sorts of interest groups competing to help consumers make better choices.

Not least, the media recognised its responsibilities and newspapers, including The Independent, began to publish best buy tables. The online price-comparison industry soon followed. Naturally enough, it did not take long for the banks to recognise such developments – and their attempts to game such tables continues to this day.

The introductory bonus trick is a variation on a gimmick seen across the financial services sector. It is deceptively simple – a high headline rate of interest ensures a best-buy table appearance, but the rate expires after a fixed period and then becomes much less attractive – but very difficult to legislate for in commoditised analysis such as a best-buy table or a price-comparison service.

After all, on Consumer Focus's figures, a third of cash Isa savers recognise what their account provider is up to – and have the sense to move on once interest rates fall back. Stripping bonus rates out of comparisons would be a disservice to savers who are getting the best out of the system, in order to help those who are not. Even pointing out the trap in the small-print doesn't seem to work: savers tend to start with the best of intentions, promising themselves that they will switch, only to fail to do so when the time comes several months later.

It is difficult to know how to solve the problem. Banks are already duty-bound to remind customers their introductory offer is coming to an end, so this is not a question of improving disclosure rules. Nor, in the end, can you force consumers to overcome their apathy. Anyway, were everyone to do so, the introductory bonus would presumably disappear, since the economics of the game only work when there are enough customers on the losing side.

Encouraging competition – such a noble idea in principle – is a difficult practical exercise.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Supporting role: at the Supreme Court, Rhodes was accompanied by a famous friend, the actor Benedict Cumberbatch
booksPianist James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to stop the injunction of his memoirs
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan
filmDheepan, film review
Sport
Steven Gerrard scores for Liverpool
sport
News
peopleComedian star of Ed Sullivan Show was mother to Ben Stiller
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
News
George Osborne became Chancellor in 2010
peopleChancellor accused of reneging on pre-election promise
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
News
Lena Headey plays Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
people
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Neil Pavier: Management Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...

Sheridan Maine: Commercial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...

Laura Norton: Project Accountant

£50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...

Day In a Page

'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern