Margareta Pagano: Harman's call for more women at the top is bang-on

They're talented and represent half the population. Is there a better reason for putting them on the board?

Sometimes the best ideas come from the oddest places. Usually I find Harriet Harman's views on gender batty, but her latest call for more females on the boards of our nationalised banks – and other financial institutions – is not daft at all.

As the Government is a big shareholder in two, RBS and Lloyds Banking Group, it could so easily set an example by telling them to find more top women to make up their boards. Critics say such a move means the Government might get too closely involved in the banks, but I don't share their pessimism.

If the Government does choose to lead by example, and not make a mockery of the process, then it must choose the right women. The best place to look for inspiration would be successful businesses that have female non-executives on the ground, such as Barclays Bank where Patience Wheatcroft, a former financial journalist, has shown herself to be an adept board member. According to fellow directors, her broad business reach has proved invaluable during Barclays' own struggles to raise new capital, and persuade the City that all is well.

You only have to look at last week's first-quarter results to see just how Barclays' strategy of independence has been the right one, and the bank should quite rightly feel vindicated in its determination to stay out of the Government's hands.

I'm not suggesting there is a link, but it is interesting that Barclays has a good history of women at the top – Professor Sandra Dawson of Cambridge University's Judge Business School has just retired as a non-executive; Gay Huey Evans, the former Financial Service Authority director of markets, now runs Barclays' sovereign wealth business; while Ros Stephenson, a Brit who made her mark in New York at Lehman Brothers, is at the top of Barclays Capital.

Pressure for more women on the board has jumped to the top of the agenda because of the financial crisis, with many voices claiming that more females would have prevented some of the most outrageous behaviour during the testosterone-fuelled credit frenzy. I'm not so sure. If you look at companies that went belly up – Northern Rock, RBS, HBOS – the reasons were varied, ranging from overweening ambition (RBS) to incompetent management (HBOS). It is impossible to tell whether having more female directors would have changed this. And recent research from Cambridge University suggests that the more "emotional intelligence" you display, the less effective you are at work.

Businesses want more female directors for much better reasons – they are talented and they represent half the population. But companies also say they don't know where to find them. The Professional Boards Forum's simulated board session for 50 female executives last week was an innovative solution, bringing together the two sides in an unusual way. Organisers say many new relationships were established. As Kathleen O'Donovan, the first finance director of a FTSE company, once told me after her appointment made headlines for days, there will only be "equality" when there are as many mediocre women at the top as there are mediocre men.

Square Mile sits up as Old Etonian trio swing into action at Hanson

What's the collective noun for a group of buccaneering Old Etonians with more corporate broking experience than most of the American usurpers in the City put together? A new Cazenove, perhaps? Or Hoare Govett? That's certainly the message I read into the news last week that Hanson Westhouse, the niche investment boutique, is coming to AIM through a reverse takeover of Jersey-based SovGEM, the Chinese investment trust.

Ex-Cazenove and Rothschilds banker, Bill Staple, chief executive of Hanson Westhouse, has put together a top-notch group of advisers to help him take his investment bank into the big league. Bringing on board three Etonians in one go isn't bad. But when they are of the calibre of Andrew Beeson, founder of the Beeson Gregory stockbroker, Christopher Holdsworth Hunt, co-founder of KBC Peel Hunt, and Peter Meinertzhagen, former chairman of ABN Amro Hoare Govett, you've got to sit up.

Under the new deal, Hanson will be valued at £7m, a tiddler by any standards. But what the listing does for Hanson is to give it not just visibility but also a currency to acquire other brokers should it decide to grow by acquisition. Staple has already looked at buying rival brokers, many of them in turmoil as the markets have plunged, but decided to go the organic route, for now.

Since news of the deal – and the Etonian trio signing – Hanson has had several enquiries from potential clients. It's already cornered the market in London for Chinese listings, including the £300m Chinese ReneSola solar company, and has 30 firms on its books. Tim Metcalfe, the head of corporate finance, tells me this is a great time to expand as competitors fall by the wayside, while Staple's ambition is to recreate an old-style relationship-banking and broking business.

Those American houses had better watch out – the real City is back in action.

News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
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

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Business Analyst (Agile, SDLC, software)

£45000 - £50000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Finance Manager - Bank - Leeds - £300/day

£250 - £300 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Finance Manager - Accountant - Bank...

Compliance Officer - CF10, CF11, Compliance Oversight, AML, FX

£100000 - £120000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: A leading fi...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn