Leading article: Britain's boardrooms have much to prove

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The Independent Online

It is just possible that the mere threat of legal action to force businesses to promote more women to top positions is having some positive effect.

When Lord Davies concluded his review of gender inequality in corporate boardrooms in February, his failure to recommend compulsory quotas to address the issue met with scepticism from equal rights campaigners.

Instead, the former Trade minister took a more nuanced line - setting out a target that by 2015 a quarter of board members at Britain's top 100 companies should be female, with the proviso that legal changes might yet go ahead if the necessary steps are not taken.

Six months on, it is encouraging to see women being appointed to FTSE 100 boards at twice the rate they were last year. Sadly, the increase is a baby step given the scale of the mountain to be climbed.

Notwithstanding the few, oft-quoted female chief executives, Britain's boardrooms are still overwhelmingly male places. Just 12.5 per cent of FTSE 100 bosses are female and, at the current rate, it will be another 70 years before the genders are in balance, the Equality and Human Rights Commission says. Amongst smaller companies, the pace of change is slower still. Discriminatory attitudes also remain depressingly entrenched. Glencore chairman Simon Murray's recent comments that women are less ambitious, and have a tendency to "go off for nine months", were just the latest in the tradition of broadsides from business leaders purporting to tell it like it is.

All and any progress should obviously be welcomed. But there is no room for complacency. It will take more than six months to change boardroom culture. And if there are any signs of backsliding, Lord Davies should turn his threat of quotas into action.