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Business: Representation of Women

Volume 641: debated on Thursday 17 May 2018

6. What steps the Government are taking to help ensure that women are better represented at the highest levels of business. (905381)

Diversity is good for business. Organisations with the highest level of gender diversity in their leadership teams are 15% more likely to outperform their industry rivals. There are now no all-male boards in the FTSE 100, compared with 21 such boards in 2011, and the percentage of women on FTSE 350 boards has more than doubled since 2010. However, we know that there is more to do, which is why we commissioned the Hampton-Alexander review to improve female representation at the most senior levels in business.

Clearly, progress is being made, but in thanking my hon. Friend for her answer, may I ask how the Government are engaging positively with our business community to help meet the important Hampton-Alexander goals?

I thank my hon. Friend, who has taken a long interest in diversity matters. Indeed, he is meeting the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths), this afternoon to discuss this topic. The Government-backed Women’s Business Council’s recent toolkit, “Men As Change Agents”, calls on FTSE 350 chief executive officers to embrace three asks to deliver the required pace of progress, including sponsoring women from within their organisation with the potential to secure an executive role within three years. My hon. Friend is keen to be an agent of change, and I welcome his support and that of other male colleagues in driving the progress that we all want to see.

I understand that 7% of FTSE 100 companies have women chief executive officers. By contrast, the figure for businesses in Latvia is something like 47%. What can we learn from Latvia?

Of course we are always willing to look at what is happening internationally. The hon. Gentleman will know that the plans in the Hampton-Alexander review are ambitious. For example, they require businesses, before 2020, to recruit women for one in two senior roles that now exist if business is to meet that goal. If it does not, the Hampton-Alexander review panel will look at what more should be done to encourage business to do so.

One way to encourage more women through to the highest levels of business is strong mentoring. What more can be done to help spread that and roll it out further?

Mentoring is just one way, and there is a lot of evidence to suggest that sponsorship is very successful in driving women up the career ladder. That is precisely why the Hampton-Alexander review has given help through the Women’s Business Council and the toolkit. We have encouraged businesses to sponsor women within their organisation and to engage CEOs and other senior business leaders as change agents in championing the change required.

The Scottish Government have delivered a returners programme to assist women to re-enter the workforce following a career break. Will the UK Government consider doing something similar to ensure that women in England and Wales continue their career progression towards the highest levels of business?

Indeed. We have a scheme for exactly that. At the moment, we are looking at how best to spend that money, and I have a particular focus on teachers and social care workers to see if we can encourage them back into their professions. There is a much bigger challenge here for the private sector to make sure that women who have taken a break for caring reasons are encouraged back into the workforce, because we know that financial independence is a critical factor in making sure women have successful lives.