Tom Bawden: Only two women CEOs left in FTSE 100: perhaps it is time to give quotas a go

 

Cynthia Carroll is the second female FTSE 100 chief executive to resign in less than a month, and cuts in half the number of women holding the top spot at a blue-chip company.

Alison Cooper at Imperial Tobacco and Burberry’s Angela Ahrendts will be the only two FTSE 100 female chief executives standing, after Dame Majorie Scardino resigned from Pearson this month and Ms Carroll joined her yesterday. Chances are Ms Carroll will be replaced by a man, since the two clear candidates for the job are male.

These departures are a blow to Lord Davis’ quest to increase female representation on FTSE 100 company boards from 16 per cent now to 25 per cent – especially because, in this context, each female chief executive is worth 10 common-or-garden non-executive directorships, the peripheral board positions that most female members tend to secure.

But while most recognise that the lack of top-level female managers represents a significant waste of talent, how to address the problem is more hotly debated.

One school argues for mandatory quotas, saying that the status quo can only be overturned through force. Once women become a common sight in the boardroom and are seen to perform well, the process will become self-sustaining and the quotas can be removed, advocates argue.

Ms Carroll is firmly from the other school. “The last thing you want is token women,” she said yesterday when asked if she believes in quotas. “There is a need to have more women running companies, but you can’t appoint women just to satisfy a particular condition,” she added.

Despite opposition to quotas the present system of voluntary targets that British companies have been asked to sign up does not seem to be working, after the proportion of women on boards up by just 2 percentage points in two years. Maybe it’s time to give quotas a go.

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