THE City’s most illustrious ladies flocked to the House of Commons yesterday for afternoon tea at the launch of “Women for Boards”, the new initiative from super-recruiter Anna Mann to get more women onto the boards of Britain’s biggest firms.<br /><br />The idea was hatched in the middle of last year, when Mann, a founder of top-level City headhunter MWM Consulting, invited three of her closest friends on a weekend away at her country retreat. The four – Mann, Sainsbury’s non-exec and former TV presenter Anna Ford, BP human resources director Sally Bott and <br /><br />Victoire de Margerie, a professor at the Grenoble Graduate School of Business – had a brainwave as they enjoyed a post-prandial stroll through the woods, and the rest, as they say, is history.<br /><br />They now have over 100 highly-qualified women on their books just itching to join the boards of FTSE 250 companies, arguing that “a few token women are no longer enough” (hear, hear).<br /><br /><strong>LADIES’ MAN</strong><br />They’ve certainly got the support of the great and the good – among the high-profile attendees yesterday were MP Patricia Hewitt, who was hosting the event; Alliance Trust chairman Lesley Knox; Guardian Media Group boss Carolyn McCall; Diana Brightmore-Armour, chief executive of corporate banking at Lloyds… and even a few brave gentlemen, including RSA chairman John Napier and Sir Philip Hampton, the relatively newly-ensconced chairman of the beleaguered Royal Bank of Scotland.<br /><br />Hampton, who already advises senior businesswomen as a member of the FTSE 100 Cross-Company Mentoring Programme, was keen to show his appreciation for the cause. And though he remained tight-lipped about any further cash call at RBS, the cheeky chairman wasn’t afraid to lap up the attention, posing for a photograph with a number of ladies and calling out: “I feel just like Sir Stuart Rose!”<br /><br />Now there’s a man who knows the meaning of a charm offensive.<br /><br /><strong>SILVER FOX</strong><br />While we’re on the subject of the gentlemen at the launch, a familiar face popped up in the form of former Deloitte chairman Martin Scicluna, who stepped down from the audit giant in May last year at a glitzy retirement bash at Claridges.<br /><br />Scicluna’s been quite busy in the interim, having landed himself a chairmanship at property group Great Portland Estates and a non-executive directorship at Lloyds Banking Group – which, I venture, can’t exactly have been a walk in the park.<br /><br />“No, banking and property haven’t been the easiest sectors to work in over the past year, especially as my first board meeting at Lloyds was on the day after Lehman Brothers collapsed,” he chuckles, running a hand through his silvery barnet. “I used to have a full head of black hair, you know…”<br /><br /><strong>MUM’S THE WORD</strong><br />Conversation among the guests turned rapidly to the role models of yesteryear, when women in business were even rarer creatures than now. Anna Mann herself named Sir Peter Parker, the late former chairman of Whitehead Mann and British Rail as her mentor and “hero”, while Patricia Hewitt said her role models were ex-Labour MP Barbara Castle and Lib Dem peer Baroness Shirley Williams, who combined “strong leadership with sparkling personality”.<br /><br />Perhaps predictably, though, the most popular answer cited by the ladies was “my mum”. Doesn’t it just warm the cockles of your heart?