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Career Progression

Volume 597: debated on Thursday 2 July 2015

23. What steps the Government are taking to ensure more women are appointed to boards and to help them progress in their chosen career. (900720)

The Government have been supporting Lord Davies to achieve the 25% target of women on boards of FTSE 100 companies by this year. We are improving transparency and providing more support to businesses, such as through the Women’s Business Council, within and outside the corporate sector, to help them to build their talent pipeline and to utilise and develop all the talents in their female workforce.

It is great news that the Institute of Directors has appointed its first female chair in its 112-year history, but the fact remains that women still make up only about 20% of the membership of boards. Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the key ways to redress the balance is by encouraging and inspiring more female executives?

I entirely agree. The latest published figures showed that 23.5% of FTSE 100 board appointments were female, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that that relates particularly to progress made on non-executive directors, not on the executive pipeline. It is important to work with executive search firms, which is why in the previous Parliament the Government worked with them to develop their voluntary code of conduct. That has brought about real cultural change, but of course there is much more to do.

The Secretary of State mentions executive search firms. All too often, board appointments are made by executive search firms that do not actually conduct comprehensive searches but go for the same old candidates. What is she doing specifically to ensure gender balance on shortlists? Does she welcome the launch this evening of Harvey Nash’s Inspire apprentice board programme?

I am very happy to welcome the publication by Harvey Nash to which the hon. Lady has referred. She may be aware that in July last year the previous Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills launched the voluntary enhanced code for executive search firms, which built on the Lord Davies report of 2011. The aim was to recognise and reflect on those executive search firms that were already working to improve gender equality in British boardrooms. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to say that adverts often ask for the same old skills and do not recognise other experiences that women might have had that they could bring to the boardrooms of our top companies.

Order. The hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) has already contributed on Question 15, which we all savoured, but I am afraid that it is not possible for a Member to contribute twice in the same session. I urge the hon. Lady to store it and use it on a subsequent occasion. We look forward to that with eager anticipation. Meanwhile, I call Gloria de Piero.

May I take this opportunity to congratulate the England women’s football team? Last night’s result was gutting, but as captain Steph Houghton said, they can walk away with their heads held high—they did their country proud.

Since 2011, fewer than 10 women have been appointed to executive positions on FTSE 100 boards. Will the Secretary of State set a target?

I entirely agree with the hon. Lady about the pride we all saw in the England women’s football team playing last night. She invites me to set a target for executive appointments on boards. I am not a great fan of targets, but I agree that much more progress needs to be made.

Ah, the usual dexterity of a QC. We are grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman, who is also an Arsenal fan, so he has many reasons to celebrate.