'Time for quotas' to put women in top jobs

First woman to head the TUC demands help to counter the old boys' network

The dearth of women at the top of British companies can only be addressed by introducing boardroom quotas, according to the first female general secretary of the TUC.

In an outspoken interview with The Independent, Frances O'Grady said that women executives needed "extra help" to combat a cliquish male culture that still favours underqualified men. "We need to break down the group-think that is too evident in boardroom decisions," she said. "Frankly some of the men who are there didn't get there on merit either."

The intervention of Ms O'Grady, who takes over as head of the Trades Union Congress in the new year, will push the controversial issue of employment quotas for women back up the political agenda.

David Cameron has said he wants to see more women on boards "preferably without having quotas", and Britain is leading resistance to a proposal from Brussels for a female quota of 40 per cent on the boards of listed companies.

Two of the highest profile female FTSE directors have recently resigned – the Pearson chief executive Marjorie Scardino and Anglo American mining boss Cynthia Carroll – and studies indicate that just one in 10 executive boardroom appointments currently goes to women.

The setbacks to gender equality at the top of British business comes at a time of broader concerns about the plight of women across the workforce, with George Osborne's austerity measures taking a disproportionate toll on female employees, who fill many of the lowest-paid public sector jobs.

Ms O'Grady said: "I support quotas. I suspect some of the successful women who oppose them are just terrified of the idea of women being judged of having got into a position of power through extra help.

"I sympathise with that. But I've had loads of help from women and men. I think it's really tough for women to get to the top of any tree and usually you will find they have got some very good friends to support them especially if they have got families to look after."

Ms O'Grady, who brought up her now-adult children as a single mother, added: "I support it as a principle because it is the right thing to do.

"This idea that everybody gets there on merit as opposed to having someone tap them on the shoulder – it's wrong. Some men have had some extra help and I'd suggest it is still a case of who you know rather than what you know." Ms O'Grady also called for employees to be given representation on company boards, as is the case in Germany, Europe's most successful economy, as a way of increasing female representation. She said: "I was at an OECD event in Germany and it was clear that the best way for a woman to get on to a board even there was through their union. Because workers have representation women have more chance of getting a place at the table.

"What I would say is that although I support women in business, I am just as concerned about the shop workers who sell them their suits, about the teachers who teach their children and the cleaners who clean their offices."

Despite trade union membership dwindling to just below 6m, Ms O'Grady said the movement had "an historic opportunity" to take advantage of rising public anger amid a string of banking scandals and the Government's austerity programme.

"We know there are millions of people who say they'd like to join a union but there is no union in their workplace. We also know that, stunningly, there is huge support among young people for unions, which is very interesting. If they're not unemployed they are likely to be in low paid work, segregated into particular industries and jobs where traditionally it is very hard to organise. They feel very, very frustrated about their futures and have real empathy with union values. Capitalising on that is a big challenge."

Looking to the next two or three years she said: "There is this feeling that there is this little clique, an elite across the business and political class who don't know what it's like to worry about the bills coming in, who don't know what it's like to have adult children who are really well qualified but cant get a decent job... Who also don't always get that very deep sense of injustice that we saw with the Starbucks, Google, Amazon fiasco. The sense that paying tax if you're a wealthy individual or a big corporation is a matter of negotiation whereas for the rest of us, those who are lucky enough to have a job, it's PAYE."

Firls 'still being pushed to put child-raising first'

A generation of girls is still being brought up to believe that raising children is more important than their own ambitions, a leading headmistress warns today. Young women need to learn that they have options in life, and should be free to make decisions, according to Hilary French, the incoming president of the Girls' Schools Association. She said girls' schools can help pupils to "be strong in making decisions, and secure in the rightness of the decision".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
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 General

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Microsoft Gold partner, our c...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant

£14500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for an experie...

Recruitment Genius: Canteen Manager Required

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's Frozen...

Recruitment Genius: Canteen Assistants Required

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's Frozen...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum