Andrew Hill

Quotas have provided a lightning rod for debate about gender balance in the corporate sector ever since I started writing about the subject, covering such events as the pioneering Women’s Forum in Deauville and latterly our own Women at the Top conference. In recent years, even those who initially opposed firm quotas – such as Anne Lauvergeon of Areva and Christine Lagarde, France’s finance minister – have started to come round to the idea.

Andrew Hill

The latest excellent Cranfield University School of Management report on women on UK boards draws attention to a specific problem: that stricter vetting of candidates to become directors of banks may work against the aim of improving gender balance.

If a premium is placed on banking expertise above all else, and fewer women than men have such expertise, the old Catch-22 of directorship will apply – you can’t join this board because you don’t have experience, but you won’t get experience without joining a board.

Andrew Hill

Egon Zehnder International, the executive search firm, has looked at the background of the CEOs in the FT’s ranking of the top 50 women in world business. All but three share one crucial attribute: they’ve had hands-on management experience.

This puts them in a minority even among women in business. A separate EZI study of female executive directors in Europe shows over 70 per cent are in support functions, such as finance, human resources or marketing. Yet line management is the route to the top.  For instance, the FT’s number 6, Ursula Burns, started in various assistant roles at Xerox but used the role of vice-president of global manufacturing as a stepping stone to the CEO job.

Andrew Hill

The appointment of Banesto’s chief executive Ana Patricia Botín as chief executive of Santander UK, the big Spanish bank’s British arm, will put one of Spain – and Europe’s – top businesswomen under even more scrutiny. As the FT’s Madrid correspondent Victor Mallet writes

The 50-year-old daughter of Emilio Botín, Santander’s veteran executive chairman, is regarded among Spanish bankers as the heiress apparent who will run the eurozone’s biggest banking group by market capitalisation when her father finally retires.

For Botín, that “heiress” tag is double-edged. Leslie Crawford, then Madrid correspondent, wrote about the bank executive in 2005. She first met her in Mexico in the 1990s and described her as “the very model of a modern female conquistador”.

Andrew Hill

Mentoring has received a weighty stamp of approval from the Bank of England, which this week hosted a half-day colloquium about “widening the circle” of non-executive directors to include more women.

The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street – as the UK central bank is known – rarely lifts her skirts for private gatherings. When she does, however, she can certainly turn heads: 90 people attended, of whom 16 chair blue-chip FTSE 100 companies, and 10 head companies in the FTSE 250.

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

The 'Women at the Top' blog is part of a series of online and print publications that focuses on women's achievements in business. With up-to-date news and incisive analysis, the blog will provoke discussion on the role of the world's most prominent businesswomen.

For more Women at the Top news, video interviews and other features, visit


About our bloggers

Liz Bolshaw

Liz Bolshaw is a business journalist and editor. She has been a successful book publisher, online editor, magazine editor and publisher.

She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

Her last project for the Financial Times was as editor of the paper’s Business Education magazine.

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She writes regularly for the FT on business education, entrepreneurship, and management.

Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He was City editor of the FT and editor of the daily Lombard column on British business and finance from September 2006 to December 2010.

He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

Pino Bethencourt

Pino Bethencourt is a professor and leadership expert at IE Business School in Madrid. She is also an author and executive coach.

Lynda Gratton

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School.

Linda Tarr-Whelan

Linda Tarr-Whelan, former ambassador to the UN commission on the status of women, is a Demos distinguished senior fellow.