The chairman of Tesco, John Allan, has warned white men everywhere that they are an "endangered species" on UK boards and that to get to the top they are going to have to work "twice as hard" as women and ethnic minorities.
Despite sitting three executive boards himself (he is also chairman of Barratt Developments, and a non-executive director at Worldpay), Allan has said that in the workplace "the pendulum has swung" away from white men.
Speaking at retail conference Retail Week Live, Allan said: "For a thousand years men have got most of these jobs. The pendulum has swung very significantly the other way...If you are female and from an ethnic background and preferably both, then you are in an extremely propitious period.
"If you are white and male - tough.
"You are an endangered species and you are going to have to work twice as hard."
Clarifying his comments over the weekend, Allan said: "The point I was seeking to make was that successful boards must be active in bringing together a diverse and representative set of people. There is still much more to be done but now is a good time for women to put themselves forward for NED roles. In all the organisations I have been involved in I have been a committed advocate of greater diversity and very much regret if my remarks have given the opposite impression."
Grant Thornton's annual survey on equality found that, despite calls for more representation of women on boards, the proportion of women in senior business roles has actually fallen in the UK, down to 19 per cent, as compared to 21 per cent last year.
In 2004, when Grant Thornton first conducted the study, the proportion was 18 per cent.