Davies issues warning over female quotas

Marion Dakers
LORD DAVIES of Abersoch’s report on getting more women into the boardroom stopped short of imposing immediate quotas yesterday, but some firms warned that demanding equality from the top will not improve businesses.

Lord Davies’ study, commissioned by business secretary Vince Cable last August, called for FTSE 100 companies to “challenge themselves” to increase the number of female directors to 25 per cent by 2015.

He said smaller firms in the FTSE 350 should set their own targets, but warned that quotas remain an option if the gender balance fails to improve.

“This is not about aiming for a specific figure and is not just about promoting equal opportunities but it is about improving business performance,” said Davies.

The report said headhunters should shoulder some of the responsibility by drawing up a voluntary code of practice for promoting gender equality when sourcing boardroom candidates.

PwC partner Dawn Nicholson said the targets were “highly aspirational” and merely encourage firms to hire in senior women “without dealing with the far more complex issue of why women are failing to progress within their organisations in the first place. This is like painting over a damp wall”.

Law firm Eversheds warned the targets, coupled with the threat of quotas and EU legislation, could push firms into hiring women in a way that leaves them open to sex discrimination cases.

The Institute of Directors was also sceptical, arguing that targets for recruitment and transparency could lead to the best candidates missing out on board seats. “Improving flexible working opportunities for aspiring female executives will be central, with companies rather than govern-ment taking the lead in creating these opportunities,” said the business group.