Businesses urged to 'radically change' way they promote women

The Davies report calls on leading firms to fill one in four board positions with women by 2015 – or face compulsory quotas

Britain's leading companies have been threatened with compulsory quotas if they fail to voluntarily boost the number of women in their boardrooms and implement a "radical change" in the way they promote senior female members of staff.

Lord Davies's report on gender equality at the top of the corporate world recommends that at least 25 per cent of the board membership at FTSE 100 companies be female by 2015 – double the present proportion – and that chief executives of the 350 largest UK companies should announce their "inspirational targets" for the boards of their own companies by September.

The Davies report also calls on companies to review the proportion of women represented on executive committees, immediately below board level.

The report was commissioned by the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, and the Minister for Women and Equalities, Teresa May, last year.

While rejecting the idea of compulsory quotas as "tokenism", Lord Davies said that "if the market is unable to correct itself, then quotas are a threat." However, he hoped the business case for improving female representation would be solid enough to persuade many firms to change their ways. The report states: "Evidence suggests that companies with a strong female representation at board and top management level perform better than those without and that gender-diverse boards have a positive impact on performance. It is clear that boards make better decisions [when there is] a range of voices, drawing on different life experiences."

Lord Davies, a former banking executive, added that if one third of new board appointments were female then the 25 per cent target for larger companies would be achievable with only 135 female board appointments.

Yet the Davies recommendations face significant obstacles. Eighteen FTSE 100 companies have no female directors at all, and nearly half of all FTSE 250 companies do not have a woman in the boardroom.

Research by The Independent indicates that many of the UK's largest and best-known enterprises have a long way to go before meeting the recommendations. At BP, for example, 92 per cent of senior managers are male; at Unilever the figure is 90 per cent; at 3i 86 per cent; and at Marks & Spencer, Vodafone, the John Lewis partnership and Pearson roughly 75 per cent of managers are men. Lord Davies identifies the career "attrition" of women staff as a key factor limiting their emergence at very senior and board levels.

According to figures from the Office for National Statistics, the gender "pay gap" has now been reversed for workers in their twenties, with women earning more than males; but by their thirties and forties the balance has shifted back in favour of men, suggesting that women leaving to start families still find it difficult to make up for lost promotion opportunities when they re-enter the workforce. This remains a significant factor in the persistence of gender inequality.

Stephen Alambritis, commissioner for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, commented: "At the current rate of change it will take 73 years for women to achieve equal representation on the boards of FTSE 100 companies. Clearly, we agree with Lord Davies that business needs to put its house in order. We also agree that it would be better for companies to take action themselves without Government having to impose quotas upon them."

Penny de Valk, chief executive of the Institute of Leadership and Management added: "We know that the talent is out there so UK business must be more flexible to achieve the required flow of female leaders into senior roles. However, this must not result in helicoptering women into top roles. Instead UK plc has to build an effective talent pipeline for female leaders."

Under the Davies proposals, quoted companies will be required every year to disclose the proportion of women on their board, the proportion in senior positions, and the overall proportion of women employees.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Assistant

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established ...

Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive

£23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Report Writer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Technical Report Writer is re...

MBDA UK Ltd: Indirect Procurement Category Manager

Competitive salary & benefits!: MBDA UK Ltd: MBDA UK LTD Indirect Procurement...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste