AN AUSTRALIAN organisation has upped the ante in the debate about representation of women on the boards of big UK companies by calling for at least 40 per cent of senior roles to be given to female directors.
Women on Boards UK, which will launch its campaign at an event in Edinburgh this week, has called for boards of listed companies to be made up on the basis of 40:40:20 – 40 per cent men, 40 per cent women, and 20 per cent either.
Last year, the Davies Report recommended a target of 25 per cent women on boards for FTSE 100 companies by 2015. Another group, called the 30% Club, which is spearheaded by Newton Investment Management chief Helena Morrissey, is pressing for 30 per cent of board places for women.
Both organisations have so far refused to back mandatory quotas – a system favoured in Norway where a 40 per cent minimum for either gender became law in 2008.
But while Women on Boards prefers targets, it does not rule out the need for quotas. UK managing director Fiona Hathorn said: “We think strong targets supported by the organisation, measured throughout, is very important. But certainly at the board level we think 40:40:20 is entirely appropriate.
“We believe quotas are a blunt instrument, but on many occasions they are a very useful tool. We prefer targets. Companies are very familiar with targets. They use targets for everything else including the purchase of paperclips. Why not women?”
Women on Boards is signing up members among businesswomen who are looking to further their careers. The group offers workshops and support programmes to its female members as well as giving companies a platform to recruit senior women.
The group has already found sponsors. These are accountancy firm PWC, media company Thomson Reuters, the South African lender Standard Bank and law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner. The group will hold its event, which is expected to attract 140, in Edinburgh on Thursday. Speakers will feature Women on Boards co-founder and director, Claire Braund, as well as Ben Thomson, chairman of the National Galleries of Scotland.
The company was launched in Australia in 2006 and Hathorn said since then it has found more than 1,000 board positions for women. The firm also targets a broad range of sectors.
Hathorn added that less ambitious targets were only demanded by groups such as the 30% Club because they were “palatable”.
“The 30% Club is a pressure group where they are working on the chairs and getting them to sign up,” she said. “They felt 30 per cent was palatable. Lord Davies said 25 per cent, Helena said 30 – we say 40.”
Morrissey said she supported the aims of Women on Boards but there was a danger of “splitting hairs over the numbers”.
She said: “Thirty per cent is not where you should stop, that is the number where analysis suggests you get critical mass. “When a minority hits 30 per cent people stop thinking, ‘oh, it is that woman talking’.”
She added that since March, 55 per cent of non- executives recruited to FTSE companies have been women.
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