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.
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.
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”.
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.