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Women: Board Membership

Volume 752: debated on Monday 10 March 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they are making towards their target of 25% of the membership of FTSE 100 company boards being women by 2015.

My Lords, women now account for 20.4% of board members in FTSE 100 companies. That is the figure from January 2014, which is up from 12.5% in February 2011. Although the figures are going in the right direction, we need to keep up progress to reach the 25% target. We need 50 new female directors to be appointed to FTSE 100 companies in order to reach the 2015 target.

My Lords, that is most encouraging news, but there is still a way to go to reach that 25%. Does my noble friend agree that independent and individual mentoring has helped to achieve this success? I am sure that we all know women who should have been appointed in the past but were always passed over.

I thank my noble friend for her encouraging comments. I am sure that mentoring has indeed helped, and I think that transparency and pressure have helped as well.

My Lords, would the Minister care to tell the House how the Government are doing in increasing the number of women on public bodies? Those figures seem to be slightly more woeful than the ones for corporate bodies. Secondly, I am sure that the noble Baroness is aware that twice as many women as men leave the corporate sector once they reach mid-level management. Given that, does she agree that, alongside measures to increase the number of women at board level, we need to fix the leaks, as it were, in the talent pipeline and ensure that women are properly represented at every level of an organisation? How does she think this might be brought about?

We are aiming for women to account for 50% of new public appointments by 2015. They are currently averaging 45%, so we are moving in the right direction. The noble Baroness is quite right that we need to address this at every level. One of the beneficial things about the Davies approach to company boards is that it is also having an effect on the response of companies at other levels. This issue has to be addressed at every level.

Is my noble friend aware that the Institute of Directors and many other professional bodies could also contribute in this regard by mentoring some of their women members? They may not be as numerous even as 25%, but there are some excellent engineers, accountants and lawyers and so on who could, with assistance, be very good members of boards and, indeed, members of those professional organisations.

My noble friend is absolutely right. I do not think that there is a dearth of talent; it is a matter of making sure that those people end up on boards. There is a lot that we ourselves can do. As I did in the debate on International Women’s Day last Thursday, I should like to mention the two companies in the FTSE 100 that have not yet appointed women. Last year, there were five; significantly, two dropped out of the FTSE 100 and one of them—the one that I mentioned—has now appointed a woman. There are two left: Glencore Xstrata and Antofagasta. Perhaps I may point out that Glencore was speedy enough to seek help from the United Kingdom Government when it was trying to finalise a deal overseas. I quote from it:

“We seek to apply best practice, ensuring that our approach is up-to-date and relevant”.

Hmm. I come to Antofagasta, which is Chilean based. Tomorrow, Chile swears in as its new president Michelle Bachelet, the formidable former head of UN Women, so I think that we have a pincer movement here.

My Lords, can the Minister tell us to what extent she and the Government believe that it is the yearly reports that are required on progress from each of the companies involved in this scheme that have had a major effect in getting the continuous stream of improvements, although I thoroughly agree with her that there is still a long way to go?

The noble Baroness is right that transparency and reporting are absolutely key. She will know that Charlotte Sweeney has just reported on the voluntary code among those who are recruiting for those positions. She notes that only 25% of those headhunting firms even mentioned this on their websites, so they themselves have a long way to go.

My Lords, can the Minister tell us how many of the FTSE 100 companies have women chief executives? What are the Government doing to improve the position?

The noble Lord puts his finger on a very important point. There are only four female chief executives in the FTSE 100 at the moment. It is indeed an area in which companies need to make a lot more progress.

Does my noble friend agree with what I said last Thursday regarding gender balance in the Cabinet? The battle for gender equality will not be won on the playing fields of Eton or Westminster School.

My Lords, following up on that excellent question, can I commend the Minister for her excellent answers to all the questions today? Does that not show up that the two people who also need a pincer movement are Clegg and Cameron?