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Law for Business

Knowhow - guidance - precedents

06 SEP 2012

Wanted - Men seek more Women!

Man - Intelligent educated male (GSOH) in senior position seeks like minded woman to join him in foreign travel to push ahead with ambitious goals in pursuit of great expansion and fantastic rewards. Need to have good head for business and be hard working and dynamic; great benefits promised and guaranteed exciting times ahead; any woman considered! Reply Box 146.

Is this really the new style of lonely hearts column appearing in the Weekend supplement, or what we may soon be seeing in the Business section of the Times?

If the Government and Europe are to be believed, there is a dire shortage of, and urgent need for more women directors on the Boards of our companies.

Despite high profile female directors such as Angela Ahrendts (Burberry) and Carolyn McCall (easyjet), the recent investigation led by Lord Davis into female presence on Britain's listed Boards produced clear but discouraging evidence for those women striving to make their mark in business. During 2011 the number of female non-executive and executive directors appointed to FTSE 100 companies amounted to 26% and 9% respectively. That might sound reasonable, but when the FTS250 was taken a whole, the proportions fell further to 24% and 7% respectively. Does not sound quite so positive when pitched against the fact that women are making up around half of all professional graduates.

Lord Davis' report advocated a voluntary target for all Britain's listed Boards to have at least 25% female membership by 2015. If this does not happen he has warned that the Government will look to impose legal quotas. This may appear draconian in a free market economy, but the European Commission has already indicated it wishes to see 40% of board room post filled by women by 2020 and has also made it quite clear that if this is not achieved via voluntary action, it will introduce quotas across Europe.

So a big cheer from all in the female camp. But is any of this really new?

For years there has been encouragement for companies to recognise the specific skills brought by women to company Boards and to motivate Boards to look at general diversification, not by way of targets or quotas, but by way of recognition of skills. The UK Corporate Governance Code clearly states in Supporting Principle to Main Principle B2: ‘The search for board candidates should be conducted, and appointments made, on merit against objective criteria and with due regard for the benefits of diversity on the board including gender.' This Principle links gender to skills - something which even men will find difficult to argue against.

In Norway female participation in secured by a requirement to have at least one woman on a listed Board. In Britain, will a voluntary code for the next 3 years, with the threat of a compulsory quota system be enough to increase female participation on our listed Boards? Or are the existing male dominated Boards and, in some cases, their ‘dinosaur' Chairman thwarting the entrance of highly educated, dynamic, hard working and business driven women onto Boards?

Kate Anthony Wilkinson

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