Icas urges firms to get women on board

RADICAL action is needed to ensure women are better represented in the boardroom, according to an influential professional body.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (Icas) has called for boards of directors to set targets for recruiting more women to their ranks and regularly report on their progress.

In its response to the UK government's "women in business" consultation, Icas said chairmen, directors and recruitment firms shared the responsibility to tackle gender imbalance in senior positions.

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Although it favours a voluntary approach to quotas, Icas would not rule out the introduction of a government-imposed quota system if companies failed to make headway themselves.

A recent report from the Cranfield School of Management revealed little progress has been made to improve female representation in the City over the past 12 months, with only 12.5 per cent of directorships of FTSE 100 companies held by women. This is a marginal increase on 2009's figure of 12.2 per cent.

David Wood, Icas's executive director of technical policy, said: "There is a perceived tokenism aspect to the introduction of a regulatory quota system, which we do not think will be widely welcomed. All board members must be there on merit and on the contribution they make to the board."

Karen Birch, managing director of 3rdi, an online magazine for women in business, said: "While a quota system may be unattractive, it may be the only effective way of getting more women onto boards. Encouragement has failed and so enforcement may now be the only viable option."

Debbie Atkins, business development director at law firm Tods Murray, who set up a women in business network in 2007, said: "The proposals by Icas recognise the need to see more female talent in our boardrooms. Yet research we carried out showed that the majority of successful women do not want special treatment. It was believed that boardroom quotas, or targets, were not necessarily the answer as they could lead to accusations of tokenism."