Leading Article: Is new talent bored by British boardrooms?

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Turn on the television at random and the sea of faces that appears will represent a fair and colourful cross-section of the country: young and old, men, women and children, people from different regions, immigrants, children of immigrants, people with different accents. Look at Britain's boardrooms and the view is monochrome in the extreme. As we report on page 30, the directors of Great Britain PLC are overwhelmingly male, university-educated accountants - and cite golf as their principal leisure activity. Only in the range of their ages (26 to 90) do they mirror Britain today.

This raises at least three questions. Most obvious is whether the business world suffers in some way from the narrowness of the group of people from whom it draws its directors. Many of the companies represented will actually have a majority of women on their pay- rolls, yet only a tiny proportion of those women have broken through the glass ceiling to reach the board. Can such a directorate sensibly gauge the shifts in taste of a company's varied customers? The second question leads from this. Given that directors are chosen from a narrow stratum of society, do we compound this narrowness by giving those people too narrow a training? It is a frequent jibe in the US that its businesses have too many MBAs; here the corresponding jibe might be that we have too many accountants. Few would deny the value of an accountancy training, but it is easy (and to some extent fair) to attribute a familiar criticism of British industry - that it is too focused on short- term profits - to an excess of accountants on its boards.

But the grey hue of Britain's boardrooms should raise an even more chilling question. Is business sufficiently attractive to bright, enthusiastic and different people? Maybe it is precisely because boardrooms are so full of golf-playing, ex-public school accountants that the innovative talent decides it would prefer not to go into business at all.