Government sets hard line on diversity

COMPANIES may be forced to disclose the actions they take to increase the proportion of women in senior roles within their ranks, under new government proposals to be unveiled today.

Ministers have called on the Financial Reporting Council to consider including a new clause in the UK corporate governance code, dedicated to improving disclosure around efforts to improve gender diversity.

The initiative comes as Prime Minister Gordon Brown is this morning due to host a breakfast meeting with leading female entrepreneurs at Downing Street, to mark International Women’s Day.
Attendees will include Helen Alexander, the first women president of the CBI; Bronwyn Curtis, head of HSBC’s global research division; UBS managing director Jill May; and Alison Carnwath, non-executive chairman of property group Land Securities.

Brown yesterday signalled a new hard-line approach to diversity from the government.

“A new principle in the governance code on diversity would build on the provisions in the equality bill, which allow employers to take positive action when recruiting to balance their workforce,” he said.

“But if we do not see a dramatic change in the composition of company boards in the future, we will need to consider taking more serious action.”

Among all the FTSE 100 company bosses, just five women hold top rank: Anglo American chief executive Cynthia Carroll, Pearson’s Dame Marjorie Scardino, Alliance Trust boss Katherine Garrett-Cox, Burberry chief Angela Ahrendts and Alison Cooper, who was appointed to the helm of Imperial Tobacco in November.

Only one in ten FTSE board directors are women, while 25 firms have no women on the board at all, according to research from the Cranfield School of Management.

A survey commissioned by the government’s equalities office showed that 80 per cent of respondents believe a balanced management team performs better, while 61 per cent said firms are losing out on talent by having fewer women in senior roles.