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Company Boards: Female Representation

Volume 558: debated on Thursday 14 February 2013

In 2010 we asked Lord Davies to review the obstacles preventing women from making it on to corporate boards. Following his report, a range of steps have been taken. They include a voluntary code of conduct for executive search firms, amendments to the UK corporate governance code, changes to narrative reporting, and the establishment of the Women’s Business Council. Over the past year, 38% of those appointed to the boards of FTSE 100 companies have been women.

May I congratulate my hon. Friend on the arrival of his new baby daughter, who, for all we know, may be a board director of the future herself?

I thank the Minister for her answer, and I congratulate the Government on the excellent work that they have done to increase the number of women on boards. May I urge them, however, to focus particularly on the pipeline in companies this year, and to encourage our UK corporate boards to engage in a robust discussion about child care, “keep in touch” days, and the big cliff that appears when women reach childbearing age?

My hon. Friend is right. That is the point at which, for many women, it becomes very difficult to participate in the workplace at the same level as before. However, there is a great deal that employers can do to help both mums and dads to play a stronger role in the workplace. The Government’s “think, act, report” initiative is encouraging companies to think about what they can do not only to recruit the best women, but to retain and promote those women and ensure that their talent is nurtured all the way to the boardroom.

Can the Minister confirm that since the publication of the Davies report the number of female executive directors has risen by only 1%? What do the Government intend to do about that?

The hon. Lady has rightly highlighted the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith). It is now easier for women to make faster progress towards becoming non-executive directors, but the executive route is also important. The Women’s Business Council is looking at all the different stages in women’s careers in considering what action can be taken, and we look forward to the publication of its report later this year. We are seeing progress in the right direction, but we must stay on top of the situation to ensure that it continues to improve.