Business secretary Vince Cable’s plan to use all-female shortlist of the boards of FTSE 100 companies has been blocked. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has said the practice would be unlawful and discriminatory.
It was first revealed that the government was considering all-female shortlists for FTSE 100 companies in March. The proposal is part of a plan to improve gender diversity at top companies. The government has a target of 25% of boards being made up of women by 2015, set after a report published in 2011 revealed women accounted for just 12.5% of FTSE board members.
Figures from the beginning of the year found that the target is being approached, with the portion of women on boards topping 20% for the first time. In January, just two companies had all male boards.
Instead of using women-only shortlists, the EHRC suggests setting aspirational targets for increasing the number of women on boards within a particular timescale and targeting networking opportunities for women. The organisation also recommended providing mentoring and sponsor programmes, which could assist in the development of female talent.
Laura Carstensen, EHRC commissioner, said, “Research suggests that companies with diverse boards produce better performance and many companies recognise this. Equality is for everyone, and it is clear that there is still much to be done to ensure that women have an equal opportunity to succeed on merit in gaining board positions.
“A lack of gender balance on boards is a detriment not only to women with the ability to hold such roles but also to businesses and the economy. In an ever more competitive and global economy, we cannot afford to be overlooking the talent of half of the population.”
The commission has launched an inquiry into the recruitment and appointment practices of the top 350 listed companies at board level. It will look at the selection process, the experience of applicants and the decision makers, aiming to identify recruitment practice that could deliver more diversity with merit based appointments.
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