Traditional black-tie business dinners should be phased out in favour of more female-friendly events, according to the new boss of the CBI.
Carolyn Fairbairn is the first woman to be made director-general of the business lobby group, which represents the most powerful corporate interests in the country.
And, in a move that could put many a grey-bearded grandee’s nose out of joint, she argues that it is time for the organisation – and business in general – to become more welcoming to female executives.
While the business dinner’s typical duck breast, port and toasts to the Royal family may bring back fond memories of Oxbridge for City patricians, the late-night gatherings are seen as an anachronism by many women. Ms Fairbairn, 54, told The Independent: “I have never been a fan of the business dinner. A lot of women aren’t. They’d rather go home to their families in the evening. Why not have more early evening events like a panel discussion, a nice glass of wine or two and then everyone off home by 7.30? Maybe the business dinner is a vestige of old business life.” She hopes to ditch all but the main CBI dinner events.
Ms Fairbairn’s appointment will be welcomed by the growing number of women heading to the top of businesses.
While she opposes quotas for women in boardroom positions, she believes it is vital for companies to recruit more female non-executive directors and senior managers. “We still have a position where less than 10 per cent of executives are women. We really have to get more women into really senior management roles, running companies,” she said.
She joins the organisation at a time when the UK has the most pro-business government for many years, and said she and the CBI’s members welcomed the Conservative approach to eliminating the deficit and devolving power to the regions.
In a clear endorsement of Chancellor George Osborne’s austerity agenda, Ms Fairbairn said: “There are a number of things that we are really aligned with them on. The fiscal consolidation – balancing the books – is something our members are completely behind. Some might feel the job is nearly done: we don’t.”
However, she said she was concerned about the Government’s plan to charge businesses a levy to go towards funding apprenticeships.The CBI’s relations with the new, left-wing Labour leadership appear cool. The Opposition did not even attend the CBI’s recent annual conference. Ms Fairbairn said she had not yet met Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn but that she would, although a meeting was “not quite in the diary yet”. She did see Angela Eagle, the shadow Business Secretary last week, however, for what was a “good meeting”. She added: “I think it would be better if there was a stronger opposition and I look forward to there being one and to Labour uniting over the coming months.”
Political commentators have suggested that Ms Fairbairn has adopted a less pro-EU bias than her predecessors. Some have even suggested this was in reaction to a slapdown from the Business Secretary Sajid Javid, who criticised it for adopting a pro-EU stance before the Prime Minister had even started negotiating for reform. Ms Fairbairn denied her position marked a change. Mr Javid’s attack, she said, had stemmed from a “misunderstanding” that the CBI was taking a “completely singleminded view” in opposition to a Brexit. In fact, she said, it was merely reflecting the view of the majority of CBI members that they wanted to stay in a reformed EU.
She added: “We have some members who don’t agree, they would like us to leave the EU.” But they remain in the minority, she said.
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