Vince Cable has warned the seven remaining FTSE 100 companies without a single woman in their boardrooms that “doing nothing was not an option anymore”.
In a letter sent to the chairman and chief executive of each business, he made clear that he wanted a “significant female presence” on every board by 2015.
There were 21 FTSE 100 companies solely directed by men at the beginning of the Coalition government two and a half years ago, but mining specialists Xstrata, Glencore, Kazakhmys, Vedanta and Antofagasta, chemicals manufacturer Croda and Melrose, which specialises in performance improvement of businesses, are still to make changes in the way they’re managed.
The Business Secretary added that it was “not about equality, [but] good governance and good business”, and that “diverse boards [benefit] from fresh perspectives, opinions and new ideas which ultimately serve the company’s long term interests”.
This announcement came five days after the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, held a panel about women in economic decision-making, where Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF, called for greater gender equality in companies.
She accused companies of only giving jobs to women when they are “a basket case, a lost cause”, and that gender diversity and inclusiveness were important for humanity, as well as business.
Out of the 2500 people who attended the conference, 83 per cent were male, which accurately mirrors reality, as women currently make up only 16 per cent of all FTSE boards.
Companies were also criticised for overturning the gender imbalance by simply appointing female non-executive directors, who arguably have less power and influence on a day-today basis.
Only 20 per cent of boards have female executive directors, and Burberry and Imperial Tobacco are the sole two FTSE 100 UK companies to be run by women – respectively Angela Ahrendts and Alison Cooper.
The European Commission proposed to resolve this by making it mandatory for companies to have 40 per cent female directors on their boards, but several EU nations, including the UK, are opposed to the idea.
UK ministers want companies to have at least one female director for every three men by 2015 but do not back quotas, preferring to encourage a voluntary approach.
A study published by Randstad UK last December showed that this opinion was shared by women currently working in business, with 73 per cent of respondents saying that “self-doubt” was the main reason for women holding back, and only 6 per cent backing compulsory quotas.