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House of Commons Hansard
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08 December 2016
Volume 618

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3. What steps the Government are taking to increase the number of women on boards and at senior executive levels of FTSE companies. [907758]

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When companies have a senior team that better reflects the customers they serve, it is simply better for business and makes good business sense. Since 2010, we have more than doubled the number of women on boards in the FTSE 350. We have now committed to 33% of the members of the boards and executive committees of those companies being women by 2020.

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I welcome the work that Plymouth University in my constituency has done to ensure that there are more women on its governing body. As well as the work the Government are doing with FTSE companies, what steps is the Department taking to ensure that more women are on the governing bodies of universities across the country?

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Plymouth is always a trailblazer—as we know, one of my hon. Friend’s predecessors was Nancy Astor—and Plymouth University is clearly no exception. I commend the work that the university is doing. Female leaders in universities and colleges are very powerful role models who are inspiring the next generation. We welcome the last WomenCount report on higher education, which showed that a third of governing bodies are now gender-balanced, and we support the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s aspirational target of 40% of women on governing bodies.

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The fact that female representation on boards is rising is certainly welcome, but the number of female executive directors is still ridiculously low, accounting for less than 10% of the total number of directorships in the FTSE 100 and less than 6% of the total in the FTSE 250. How are the Government encouraging those companies to promote diversity within their executive pipelines?

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The hon. Lady makes an absolutely excellent and very important point. We want more female executives on boards, which is why the Hampton-Alexander review requirement for work on the pipeline is so vital. It is also why the target of 33% female representation on executive committees and on the committees that report to them by 2020 is so important.

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What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that successful women entrepreneurs—I am thinking of people such as Leah Totton, of “The Apprentice” fame, from Northern Ireland—are projected as role models, particularly for young females who aspire to follow in their footsteps?

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It is absolutely vital that we celebrate successful female entrepreneurs. There are more female-led businesses in this country than ever before, but we know that if women were starting up businesses at the same rate as men, there would be 1 million more of them. That is why it is absolutely vital that we celebrate those fantastic entrepreneurs—through the Careers and Enterprise Company, for example—as role models for the next generation.