Seven FTSE 100 boardrooms without a single woman

Cable: "Doing nothing is not an option anymore”

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.

Vince Cable wants every FTSE board to have a significant women presence by 2015

Marie le Conte is a freelance journalist.

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What price would the UK pay to stop Brexit?

The EU could end Britain's budget rebate and demand that we join the euro and the Schengen zone.

Among any group of Remain politicians, discussion soon turns to the likelihood of stopping Brexit. After Theresa May's electoral humbling, and the troubled start to the negotiations, those who oppose EU withdrawal are increasingly optimistic.

“I’m beginning to think that Brexit may never happen,” Vince Cable, the new Liberal Democrat leader, said recently. A growing number, including those who refuse to comment publicly, are of the same view. 

But conversation rarely progresses to the potential consequences of halting Brexit. The assumption that the UK could simply retain the status quo is an unsafe one. Much hinges on whether Article 50 is unilaterally revocable (a matter Britain might have been wise to resolve before triggering withdrawal.) Should the UK require the approval of the EU27 to halt Brexit (as some lawyers believe), or be forced to reapply for membership, Brussels would extract a price. 

Guy Verhofstadt, the European parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator, recently echoed French president Emmanuel Macron's declaration that “there is always a chance to reopen the door”. But he added: “Like Alice in Wonderland, not all the doors are the same. It will be a brand new door, with a new Europe, a Europe without rebates, without complexity, with real powers and with unity.”

The UK's £5bn budget rebate, achieved by Margaret Thatcher in 1984, has long been in the EU's sights. A demand to halt Brexit would provide the perfect pretext for its removal. 

As Verhofstadt's reference to “unity” implied, the UK's current opt-outs would also be threatened. At present, Britain (like Denmark) enjoys the right to retain its own currency and (like Ireland) an exemption from the passport-free Schengen travel zone. Were the UK to reapply for membership under Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty, it would be automatically required to join the euro and to open its borders.

During last year's Labour leadership election, Owen Smith was candid enough to admit as much. “Potentially,” he replied when asked whether he would accept membership of the euro and the Schengen zone as the price of continued EU membership (a stance that would not have served Labour well in the general election.)

But despite the daily discussion of thwarting Brexit, politicians are rarely confronted by such trade-offs. Remaining within or rejoining the EU, like leaving, is not a cost-free option (though it may be the best available.) Until anti-Brexiteers acknowledge as much, they are vulnerable to the very charge they level at their opponents: that they inhabit a fantasy world. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.