New CBI head bemoans ‘male’ dinners

Carolyn Fairbairn wants early-evening  talks. Picture: PA
Carolyn Fairbairn wants early-evening talks. Picture: PA
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The first-ever female head of the CBI employers’ lobby group has questioned why so many business dinners are held, saying they are “not very inclusive” for women.

Carolyn Fairbairn, who has held several top business posts in her career, said she had rarely attended an evening business dinner, or stayed to the end, because she was bringing up her three children.

Large hotels in major cities such as London, Edinburgh and Glasgow frequently host black tie business events during the week, usually mainly attended by men.

Alongside sporting events, Fairbairn said the dinners were regarded as places where business people could network. But she said: “I would rather have an early evening discussion panel, hold a proper debate, and then people can go home by 7.30pm.”

Fairbairn, who has recently taken over as the CBI director-general from John Cridland, added that it would be “terrific” if it made women look differently at business careers.

“There has been good progress on reaching the 25 per cent target of women on boards, but there is a long way to go, especially among senior management,” she said.

On the prospects for the UK economy, Fairbairn said she was optimistic as long as issues such as productivity and infrastructure were tackled.

She pointed to the UK’s poor productivity record against the US and Germany. The CBI boss said sectors could learn from the motor industry, which had strong leadership, and an engaged workforce encouraged to contribute ideas. She added: “It is almost a Japanese model of continuous improvement.”