David Cameron has been quoted saying he will not rule out quotas for women on boardrooms as a way to get more women into top executive jobs. Speaking at a summit in Sweden, the prime minister said he wanted to “accelerate” the increase in women on the boards of top UK firms – even if this was ideally without quotas.
A year ago an official report by Lord Davies into the issue urged companies to more than double the number of women on boards by 2015. At present the proportion of female FTSE 100 directors is about 15 per cent, though they tend to be non-executives rather than executives.
Mr Cameron said Scandinavian countries were “leading the way in Europe” on the issue of women in top executive jobs. In Norway, where quotas were introduced in 2008, the proportion is 40 per cent. (Other countries are following suit with quotas including France and Spain).
The PM said he would like to boost numbers in the UK “preferably without having quotas” but said he would not rule them out “if we cannot get there by other means”.
Women in business is one of the themes at the Northern Future Forum summit in Stockholm, attended by eight countries.
Earlier Mr Cameron said the drive for more women in top business roles “is not simply about equal opportunity, it’s about effectiveness“. He cited an ideal target of 30 per cent for women in boardrooms.
“That’s where you get down to quotas, which I don’t think you should ever rule out. If you can’t get there in other ways, then maybe you have to have quotas.”
Later the Downing Street spokesman said the coalition was minded to avoid legal quotas except as a last resort: “What we want is for the impetus for this to come from businesses themselves. We are working with businesses to try to promote greater representation of women on boards.”
The trip to Scandinavia has been presented as a “fact-finding” mission to learn from other countries on how to achieve this goal.
Yet for inspiration Cameron could look no further than a “Conservative equalities manifesto ” from just before the general election.
This had some radical propositions which could have achieved the desired effect:
* Half the candidates on long lists for directorships would have to be women.
* Every directorship would have to be advertised publicly so women would have the opportunity to apply.
* And any company which had a board made up of fewer than 30 per cent women would have to set out in its annual report what steps it was taking to deal with the situation.
None of these have yet been introduced; the Davies report made some recommendations but these were rather milder, involving greater disclosure and a target of all FTSE100 boards having at least 25 per cent female representation by 2015.