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FTSE Companies: Gender Balance

Volume 779: debated on Wednesday 8 March 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress has been made by the Hampton-Alexander review on increasing the gender balance in FTSE companies.

My Lords, since 2010, the number of women on FTSE 350 boards has more than doubled, and there are now only 11 all-male boards. Last November, the government-commissioned, business-led Hampton-Alexander review published its first report, focused on senior executive positions in FTSE companies. The Government support the challenging targets for 33% of senior leadership positions in the FTSE 100 and 33% of FTSE 350 board directors to be women by 2020.

Does my noble friend agree that the private sector has much to learn from the pioneering work we led in the Cabinet Office in the coalition Government, when the proportion of women newly appointed to the boards of public bodies rose from 36% to over 48% by 2015? The key barrier that we broke down was an excessive insistence on previous track record and experience in similar roles, which meant the same people being constantly recycled from one public body to another. I am told the same constraints often operate in the private sector. Will my noble friend explore whether replacing the requirement to show a lengthy track record with an insistence on talent and capability could achieve the same breakthrough in the private sector?

My noble friend makes a very valid point, and I congratulate her on her extensive work on modernising and increasing diversity in the public appointments system. During the Davies review, the Government launched a code of conduct for executive search firms, which required signatories to ensure that significant weight is given to relevant skills, competencies and personal capabilities, rather than just a narrow focus on career experience. The Hampton-Alexander review continues a focus on recruitment: the fifth recommendation in its first report is for search firms to redouble their efforts and consider extending the code of conduct to include recruitment to senior executive roles.

My Lords, on this International Women’s Day, I am wearing this purple scarf in support of the thousands of women demonstrating outside this place for pensions justice. I raise the issue of women on sporting boards, whose numbers are actually declining. The Women in Sport survey found that almost half of Britain’s sporting bodies are failing to meet the 30% target set for them. Will the Minister use this opportunity to reinforce to them the serious threat that they are under of losing their funding unless this injustice is rectified?

I certainly concur with the noble Baroness that women’s representation on sporting boards is woeful. In fact, I had a very interesting conversation with the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, about the generally male attitude in sport. What I said to my noble friend absolutely applies to sport: women on boards enhance the professions and sports that they represent, rather than the other way round.

My Lords, without taking attention in any way from the lack of representation of women on boards, will the Minister agree to take up the lack of representation of black and ethnic minority people on boards? It really is a scandal.

The noble Lord raises a very good point. In fact, my noble friend—I cannot remember her name; I can see her—Lady McGregor-Smith has done extensive work on this. On the back of that, the Government are setting up a Business Diversity and Inclusion Group chaired by the Business Minister, Margot James. It will bring together business leaders and organisations to co-ordinate action to remove barriers in the workplace and monitor employers’ progress. The noble Lord is absolutely right.

My Lords, if we are looking to gender balance, I suggest that we look closer to home. The three excellent clerks before us are all men.

My Lords, they are very good men. Of course, we have a female Leader, a female Leader of the Opposition and I am sure that there is a female clerk who comes in here sometimes, so I hope we are balanced out in that sense.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that this is a particularly appropriate time to have these Questions, because Marie Curie has just been honoured as a shining example of courage in driving back the frontiers of the unknown in supporting radiotherapy, although it cost her her life?

I totally agree with my noble friend. As you discover when you read the story and hear about her life, she indeed sacrificed her life in the name of science, and what dividends it has paid society ever since.

My Lords, although I look forward to the day when there are women on every FTSE board, there are those of us who believe that other boards, executive boards, often have much more power than company boards, where the number of women is at present even lower. I hope the Minister will agree that it is so important that we encourage women to break through the glass ceiling and get on to those executive boards in industry.

The noble Lord is absolutely right. If we look around this House, there are many examples of such women on executive boards. It is not just the non-exec boards, and it is not just who is on the board now; it is about looking at the pipeline of who is coming through, because it is from the pipeline that you will get your executive and non-executive members of the future.