British Business Secretary Vince Cable will write to the bosses of the eight companies in the FTSE 100 index that still have men-only boardrooms, in an effort to bolster the number of female directors at the United Kingdom's biggest companies.
The business secretary also acknowledged the slow progress of women in reaching the boards of major companies in full-time roles. New data shows there has been little progress in increasing the number of female executive directors – the figure remains static at just less than 7% of all executive directorships.
Two of the highest profile female FTSE directors – Pearson chief executive Marjorie Scardino and Anglo American mining boss Cynthia Carroll – recently resigned.
At an event to mark the second anniversary of the 30% Club, a group aimed at bolstering female board representation to 30% without mandatory quotas, Cable read out the names of the eight companies with men-only boards and said he intended to contact their chief executives to urge them to "up their game".
The eight – Antofagasta, Croda, Glencore, Xstrata, Kazakhmys, Melrose, Randgold and Vedanta – largely comprise mining and natural-resources companies with headquarters outside the UK, even though their shares are listed on the London Stock Exchange. Glencore and Xstrata are in the process of merging.
Building up diversity
Cable said: "If you list in London, there are obligations in terms of governance that go with it."
The government has stepped away from introducing mandatory boardroom representation for women, but adopted proposals by former banker Lord Mervyn Davies that 25% of boardroom seats should be held by women by 2015. There were 21 all-male boards when Davies published his first report. The six-monthly progress report, published this week, showed that the percentage of women in boardrooms had increased from 12.4% to 17.4% in the 18 months since the Davies review.
Referring to the eight companies, Cable said: "Most of these are resource companies and I know, because I used to work at an international oil company [Shell], that it is difficult to build up diversity." Even so, he reckoned, more could be done.
He also urged the head-hunting firms that find candidates for boardrooms to publish the number of women and men they placed in top jobs to establish if they were prepared to "fish in a bigger pond".
"The majority of business leaders I meet now recognise the economic case for gender balance and are actively working with us to increase the number of women on their boards and executive committees. But we must also challenge the paternalistic culture and silent assumptions about women's priorities that are ultimately keeping the glass ceiling in place," Cable said. – © Guardian News & Media 2012