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Gender Contender: Two thirds of businesses "fundamentally opposed" to voluntary quota for women on boards


UK employers are against voluntary or compulsory quotas for women on the board being foisted upon FTSE companies.

On the back of former minister Lord Davies urging FTSE 100 companies to sign up to a voluntary target of 25% female board representation by 2015, Cass Business School and recruitment firm Search Consultancy's 'Gender Contender' research reveals almost two thirds (64%) of UK businesses are "fundamentally opposed" to any form of voluntary quota whatsoever.

Amongst those favouring the quota, 13% polled said the proposed figure of 25% board representation was pitched at the right level, whilst a further 14% felt it was too low. In response to further recommendations from Lord Davies for head hunters to draw up a voluntary code of conduct ensuring diverse talent is pushed forward for senior positions, over half (52%) of the businesses polled don't approve with this approach, with a further 13% unsure.

Since Lord Davies' announcement in February, 23 women have already been recruited to boards this year, representing about 30% of total board appointments.

Grahame Caswell CEO at Search Consultancy, said: "We salute the fact that the likes of Astrazeneca, Reckitt Benckiser and British Land have all appointed female directors since the publication of Lord Davies' Women on Boards Report earlier this year. "What's significant about our research findings however is that businesses across the country simply aren't backing the concept of quotas per se. This is very different from saying they don't advocate smashing the glass ceiling but rather they don't believe FTSE companies should be subjected to playing a numbers game."

Lord Davies and Business Secretary Vince Cable are currently urging FTSE 350 companies to set their own "challenging targets" and publish their aims by this September, making it clear that unless they see firm evidence of progress they will consider legislation to forcibly impose a quota. Yet the Gender Contender research shows resentment to compulsory measures is even greater with four out of five businesses opposing a compulsory quota, believing that it's not for the government to intervene.

Caswell added: "As a 500 strong recruitment business passionate about equal opportunities, we welcome this cultural shift to dilute the male dominated boardroom. In our experience over the last two decades across all sectors, senior female executives bring a colossal amount to the top table.

"Unless they make changes fast, the writing's definitely on the wall for FTSE companies as this appears to be a coalition priority. Norway, for example, where there's a legally enforced 40% quota across corporate boards, might just be a glimpse into our future."

On Monday at the Cass Business School in London, a new organisation committed to smashing the 25 %voluntary quota was launched. Named the 30% Club, it has already been backed by industry giants such as Roger Carr of Centrica, Sir Philip Hampton of RBS, Charlie Mayfield of John Lewis and Steve Varley of Ernst & Young.

Research was carried out amongst 200 UK businesses by BDRC Continental in March 2011.