CBI chief: look beyond boards for female leaders

'We don't have enough women running things,' said Carolyn Fairbairn. Picture: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

'We don't have enough women running things,' said Carolyn Fairbairn. Picture: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

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The director-general of the CBI is to call for more action to help women progress into senior management roles.

Although a target set in 2011 for women to make up 25 per cent of FTSE 100 boards was reached last year, Carolyn Fairbairn highlighted the fact that less than 10 per cent of executive directors among the UK’s biggest listed companies are female.

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Marking her first keynote speech on diversity, Fairbairn is tomorrow expected to back calls for a voluntary target of 25 per cent female senior executives in major UK firms.

She will say: “It’s fantastic that women are present in boardrooms in greater numbers. But let’s be clear. Non-executive directors and even chairmen attend between four and ten board meetings a year. They approve strategy, are guardians of values, challenge decisions and help manage risk.

“These are important roles, but it is the job of executives to take daily decisions, shape and define strategy, and influence culture through the everyday examples that they set. They are the sleeves-rolled-up leaders in our society. Today, there are just nine more female executive directors on FTSE 350 boards than in 2010 and the number of female chief executives has barely moved.

“We don’t have enough women running things and it is not getting better anything like fast enough.”

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Fairbairn will say that a 25 per cent target for female executives is “deliberately ambitious”, and too much of UK business is still geared up for men, “in terms of its social habits, its small talk, its clubbiness”.

“The availability of childcare, flexible working arrangements and support in caring for elderly parents are part of this.”

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