James Ashton: Solution to the shortage of female directors

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The Independent Online

Depending on whom you talk to, there are either a glut of brilliant women jostling to grab a seat in Britain's boardrooms, or a dearth of strong female candidates. Either way, the feminisation of UK plc is continuing at a moderate pace. If the non-executive Class of 2012 don't cut the mustard, we will find out soon enough.

It used to be the headhunters who grumbled that chairmen were unwilling to think radical thoughts, meaning that boardrooms remained the preserve of middle-aged white men. Now some moan that some blue-chip bosses have leapt so far in the other direction they are demanding women-only shortlists when they have a directorship to fill.

At last, there is a solution that promises to smooth out most of these problems. Instead of trying to find the best candidates, headhunters, of whom many of the best are women, could simply put themselves forward for roles.

Virginia Bottomley is proving to be a past master at this, although it would be incorrect to suggest her firm, Odgers Berndtson, is in any way conflicted. First the former health secretary popped up on the board of Bupa. This week Lady Bottomley added a non-executive directorship at the artificial knee and hip maker Smith & Nephew to her portfolio. Maybe the B&Q owner Kingfisher could be next, if do-it-yourself is the order of the day?