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 397.

    Gender quotas are madness. NO ONE should be hired or denied a job based on their gender. If a woman does get an executive position it should be because she is the best person for the job as an individual, not as a woman and certainly not because the government demanded it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 396.

    Spreading rumours a woman got her job because of a quota will make a change from spreading rumours a woman got her job because she slept with her boss.

    Some big companies, particularly flash-cash investment banks, are notorious for lad-friendly work outings to strip clubs. They may as well go to the Black & White Minstrel Show and deny there's discrimination against ethnic minorities.

  • rate this

    Comment number 395.

    Cameron is on dangerous ground. Quotas imply state interference in the free market for the purpose of social engineering. That's socialist thinking, alien to true conservatism. Appointments should be on merit and ability, not gender, race, etc. Should we have quotas to increase the number of male supermarket checkout operators or doctors' receptionists? Of course not. Quotas are nonsense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 394.

    "it is about the best qualified getting it" - "rather than missing out simply because they are a woman"

    so how does quota = quality, quota is just a number regardless of any quality

  • rate this

    Comment number 393.

    There should be honesty about the role of men, they have always been the primary bread winner and many women still expect this. Cut out the double standards at play in this debate - quite simply fewer women push for the Directors position compared to men. So the choice is less.

  • rate this

    Comment number 392.


    Thats a ridiculous arguement.

    If you work in a sector for 40-50 years, do you really think you've not mastered it (if your capable) while allowing a 2-4 year career break?!!

    Women, very capable are held back due to their sex. My partner Directs a Publishing firm and just started maternity leave, she's 30, and in 2 years time will go back to work for another 30!

  • rate this

    Comment number 391.


    Thanks for the compliment comparing me to Harriet Harman. She is such an astute politician.
    Glad we agree that the people who caused the financial crisis were the bankers who are nearly all men.
    I don't blame all men for the crisis ------ only the bankers who were not up to the job

  • rate this

    Comment number 390.

    When are all these people pushing for equality going to start demanding that equal numbers of divorced men get the matrimonial home and children after divorce and when are they going to demand that equal numbers of women die as soldiers? Oh, sorry of course silly me, equality only works one way doesn't it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 389.

    Discrimination come in many different forms, and this quota system is one!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 388.

    Women get pregnant and men do not - that is not due to discrimination but biological fact. If anyone takes one or more 9 month career breaks that inevitably affects their progress. There is now general equality of opportunity but it is not a numbers game. I thought we got rid of this equality of outcome rubbish at the last election but apparently not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 387.

    . . . so, where do we draw the line with quotas? Should we have religion based quotas? GLTG quotas? And ethnic quotas? The purpose of the board of directors is to run the business and it should be done on the basis of ability and not genes, gender, faith or sexual orientation . . .

  • rate this

    Comment number 386.

    "...have no concept of what positive discrimination means. Some think it means discrimination."

    Of course it means discrimination. It even has the word 'discrimination' in the name. Only in a loony left fantasy could it mean anything else.

  • rate this

    Comment number 385.

    Will transgender count ? because we may have a quick fix here!

  • Comment number 384.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 383.


    No, it only shows the stupidity of the example - this is NOT about un or under qualified people getting jobs, it is about the best qualified getting it, rather than missing out simply because they are a woman & some bigot cannot see they are as good or better than some bloke....

  • rate this

    Comment number 382.

    Women can be great when given power - Baroness Thatcher - I rest my case.

  • rate this

    Comment number 381.

    Interesting that Call Me Dave thinks it is appropriate to interfere with the make up of board of directors when it won't upset His fat cat chums but gives a big no when it comes to the use of ordinary employees on remuneration boards for senior staff to try and reduce the ludicrous pay and bonus levels.

    I suppose this is because we are all in it together!

  • rate this

    Comment number 380.

    Alot of comments about discrimination.
    Most board members are 50+ males who grew up in a 'mens work' era.
    Board members have been discriminating for decades because a 'womans place' was in the home.
    Fight fire with fire : Discrimination Vs Discrimination.

  • rate this

    Comment number 379.

    @362.Abdi - it's tried and tested in Scandinavia and it works. They seem to be doing ok. All of these claims that mediocre women will be in power is insulting to women and denies the fact that there are plenty of capable women out there who are not given a chance. I currently work with many capable women in a very equal work environment, but not everywhere is like this so quotas would help.

  • rate this

    Comment number 378.

    let the women have all the full time jobs i am sick of being treated like a pariah by this country,
    let us men take over the home and bringing up the kids
    you women go out and bring home the corn
    but make sure you offer the easiest and cushiest positions to your token male colleagues,
    afterall what goes round comes round


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