Speaking to the Lords EU Sub-Committee on the Internal Market, Infrastructure and Employment, Cable refused to rule out the use of quotas but stressed they would be used only as a “last resort”.
“It’s so much better if companies own this issue rather than have it imposed on them,” he said. “We want this to get embedded in the way that companies think and create diverse executive pipelines.
"We want to say to the business community that they need to take this seriously. If they think there are no circumstances where we would do anything about it they might say 'fine we'll just forget about it'. So it's important to have it as a nuclear deterrent, but not necessarily to use it."
EU targets 'unhelpful'
The committee also asked Cable whether he expected the Government to hit the EU Committee’s target of 40% women on all non-executive boards, as well as 33% of women on all boards, by 2020.
The secretary called the objective “unhelpful” due to its distinction between non-executive and executive positions, saying that the Government is instead focusing on the UK target of reaching 25% women on all boards by 2015.
“I’m confident we will hit that target (the current figure is 22%),” he said. “Continuing to focus on non-executive directorships seems to us to miss the point. The point should be to build up executive pipelines of talented women coming through to executive positions.”
Beyond 2015, Cable singled out increasing the number of women chairing boards as a key objective of the Government.
“Currently, there are only four in the top 100, which is far too few,” he said. “It’s really an issue of executive experience.”
The other long-term aim Cable outlined was to see a woman on every board of FTSE 350 companies, having achieved this aim within the FTSE 100 a fortnight ago.
“The current position is that we’re making progress at the same rate but we haven’t reached an absolute level yet,” he said. “There are still several boards within the FTSE 350 with no female representation.”