David Cameron won't rule out women in boardrooms quotas

David Cameron with other leaders at the Nordic-Baltic summit Encouraging women in business is a central theme of the two-day summit in Sweden

David Cameron has said he will not "rule out quotas" as a way of getting more women into top executive jobs.

At a summit in Sweden, the PM said he wanted to "accelerate" the increase in women on the boards of top UK firms, preferably without resorting to quotas.

A government-commissioned report urged top firms to more than double the number of women on boards by 2015.

Research suggests the proportion of female directors at FTSE 100 companies has risen from 12.5% in 2010 to 15%.

Mr Cameron told Nordic-Baltic leaders their countries were "leading the way in Europe" on the issue of women in top executive jobs. In Sweden, women hold a quarter of boardroom posts. In Norway, where quotas came into force in 2008, it is 40%.

During a discussion he cited the figure of 30% as a likely target for women on British boards.

He said he would like to boost numbers "preferably without having quotas" but said he would not rule them out "if we cannot get there by other means".

Start Quote

If we fail to unlock the potential of women in the labour market, we're not only failing those individuals, we're failing our whole economy”

End Quote David Cameron

He told the meeting of eight other European leaders that the "case is overwhelming that companies and countries run better if you have men and women working together at the top".

Securing promotion for women and encouraging female entrepreneurs is one of the two key themes of the Northern Future Forum summit in Stockholm.

Earlier Mr Cameron said the drive for more women in top business roles "is not simply about equal opportunity, it's about effectiveness".

"The evidence is that there is a positive link between women in leadership and business performance, so if we fail to unlock the potential of women in the labour market, we're not only failing those individuals, we're failing our whole economy."

"So I want to get ideas in Stockholm that we can take back to London to explore if they could help us get more women into British boardrooms, boosting profits and contributing to the economic growth we all urgently need."

'Warm words'

Downing Street later said the government had no plans to introduce quotas and wanted the impetus to come from business.

The PM's spokesman added that the government was working with business to encourage the promotion of women onto boards.

But Unison union general secretary Dave Prentis said Mr Cameron's "warm words won't fool women".

"The unemployment figures don't lie - they expose how hard women are being hit by heavy public sector job losses, and the lack of private sector job growth. Tory cuts are also depriving women of the low-cost childcare they rely on to stay in work."

Among the British delegation in Stockholm was the head of Downing Street's Behavioural Insight Team - better known as the "Nudge" unit - David Halpern.

Nudge theory is seen as a way of encouraging behavioural change without resorting to bans or increased regulation. BBC political correspondent Robin Brant said that was clearly the favoured route for the government in getting more women on boards.

In the last year, 27% of board-level appointments at FTSE 100 companies have gone to female applicants, but one in 10 of Britain's biggest firms still have all-male boards.

At present, 15% of FTSE 100 directors are women.

The government-commissioned Davies report last year said quotas should be imposed unless top firms acted to increase the number of women on their boards to at least one in four by 2015.

A book published by two Conservative MPs - including Matthew Hancock, a close ally of Chancellor George Osborne - called for a 30% target backed by state-imposed sanctions if progress was not made quickly.

But Home Secretary Theresa May, who is also minister for women and equalities, told MPs recently: "The best way to get change is to do it in a way which isn't imposing a quota on a company but is encouraging people to recognise the talents within those companies."

She said the government was monitoring progress made since the Davies' report was published last year and would "work with companies to encourage them to use the talent within them".


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  • rate this

    Comment number 257.

    Good for Cameron that he is recognising the general superiority of the 'nordic way'.

    But the reasons they outperform us are better education and training, less inequality, a competent public sector, recognition of the importance of manufacturing industry, less welfare dependency...

    all reasons why their girls are less likely to be teenage mums, and more able and willing to work,

  • rate this

    Comment number 256.

    It speaks volumes of the BBC's disposition that JB's comment, which breaks so many house rules that I'd run out of characters listing them all, is not only allowed to remain online but is actually an Editors' Pick. You cannot justify promoting such blatant and unsubstantiated sexism while removing far more reasoned comments from the other side of the argument. It's hypocrisy of the highest order.

  • rate this

    Comment number 255.

    I don't know why everyone is complaining about the existence of glass ceilings. I've got one in my greenhouse and it's been fantastic so far.

  • rate this

    Comment number 254.

    How about people (men and women) getting jobs based on merit and their ability to do the job, rather than through family connections, the 'old boys network', colour, sex, gender, religion, etc, etc. Nuts, I know!

  • rate this

    Comment number 253.

    This isn't formulated scientifically, but here goes. The female mentality is not entirely 'unknown' to men, because it approximates to the mentality that men had as children. Girls grow up faster than boys, but my contention, based on ordinary observation, is that boys should shoulder an expectation to grow up further.

  • rate this

    Comment number 252.

    247. joan
    "So Davey boy has just realised how much damage his cuts are doing to women"

    The only reason his cuts are doing "damage" to women is because they got all the benefits in the first place!

    You can't cut what doesn't exist.

  • rate this

    Comment number 251.

    With the state of the economy we need people who can do the job not lame ducks parachuted into positions to be politically correct.

    all that will happen is those with abilities but the wrong sex or colour or whatever the falvour of the month is will just leave the country. Britian is sinking lets not submerge it completely for political correctness sake.

  • rate this

    Comment number 250.

    @ 222 goodgirl - when I had a job, before a VP (female, no hard feelings) decided I didn't need it anymore, I regularly worked 12 hour days.
    My wife regularly still works from 07:30 til 19:30 (she's 'global').
    We were both theoretically on 24 hour call, and neither of us were above that 'glass ceiling'. These are conditions caused by the expectations of CEO's and Directors, but without the money

  • rate this

    Comment number 249.

    Privatise the NHS but hey look we may make it slightly easier to employ women above the glass ceiling thanks Dave you do care.

  • rate this

    Comment number 248.

    218 "Other sections want to be repesented proportionally, that's fair too". There lies the rub. They aren't represented proportionally, modern Socialism is tiny minorities and investing them with influence beyond their warrant. Proper Socialism, what is best for the masses, is long dead, it's all about supporting/eradictae the latest "-ism"
    and handing out more and more benefits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 247.

    So Davey boy has just realised how much damage his cuts are doing to women, so lets chuck them a carrot to keep them quiet does he think women are stupid that they cannot see through him. Taking heat off the fact that he has not got any guts to sort out his City pals. These Eton boys are about as much use as a chocolate fireguard.

  • rate this

    Comment number 246.

    228. indiansummer42 that's just confirmation bias. there's literally 1000s of studies on the gender pay gap, with the majority acknoledging that it exists AFTER differences in work experience, education, occupation, parental and marital status, hours worked, tenure, etc. picking 1 to the exclusion of others is called cherrypicking as mainstream academic voice say the opposite time and time again

  • rate this

    Comment number 245.

    One of the best things the Govt could do to equalize the footing of men & women is to provide employment-on-sight daycare. In fact, I'm sure many fathers would enjoy this as well.
    Only when so-called female domestic responsibilities are equalized between men & women will women be able to work to their full potential.

  • rate this

    Comment number 244.

    ok dave money where your mouth is time support a female manager for the england team now there is a vacancy. we have had several men with so called experience and qualification who have all failed so there must be a female manager out there somewhere. lets see the conservatives push for a female manager, then a black one and so on till weve confirmed our political correct values.

  • rate this

    Comment number 243.

    Plus ca change. Us men have been trying to break through on the promotion stakes ever since positive discrimination was introduced way back in the late 80's. Nothing has changed. No one ever complained about a deserving person getting a good position- it's just that positive discrimination never changed anything- and got up many noses. The whole thing is totaly devisive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 242.

    I saw what positive descrimination did for female Conservative MPs. You never saw a worse bunch of close-minded, hypocritical, border-line fundamentalist people in your life.

    Still, they're pretty-ish, can sit behind him at PMQ and nod along with everything he says, because that's what equal rights is about, right?

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    Fair enough - why should men get all of the blame for the mess we're in!

  • rate this

    Comment number 240.

    A bad idea. I believe women themselves do not want quotas or anything else suggesting preferential treatment. If true equality between the sexes is to exist, then it has to be on the basis of the person who best meets the job specification regardless of gender. Quotas will only breed resentment, as it has done already with ethnicity. I suggest the PM has more serious problems to address just now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 239.

    I'm all in favour of more women on boards and in positions of influence generally. But ask any very successful woman, and I am fortunate enough to know a few, they will all tell you on balance they are against quotas. Its very important for them to know they have achieved on merit alone. I'll hear what successful women have to say on this subject before David Cameron any day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.

    I suppose most boardrooms would look better with some nice curtains and a few plants to brighten them up


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