Vince Cable is not trying hard enough to get more women on the boards of top companies

Labour Party

Vince Cable quietly launched what he called an ‘enhanced’code of conduct for executive search firms to support the appointment of more women on boards this week. It is targeted at the FTSE 350 and recognises those firms who have been most successful in the recruitment of women to the FTSE 350 boards.

The main problem with the idea of a voluntary code is that it isn’t taken seriously. This is evident by the very fact that the new code is actually a re-launch of an original one from 2011 to which just 70 firms signed up to. Whether the lack of support was due to poor marketing by the Department of Business Innovation and Skills or just a general dislike of anything which smacks of regulation, it illustrates that more decisive action is required.

That’s precisely why I advocate a move towards mandatory quotas. I wrote about the issue in 2012 for the New Statesman, and set out my argument then.

My New Statesman article pointed out that mandatory quotas have been successful in parts of Europe. Norway introduced legislation in 2003 when women represented just 9 per cent of executives at board level. Since then female representation has increased to 40 per cent, a great achievement in under a decade. Rather than collapsing, as many reactionary Britons may have expected, businesses in Norway have thrived as more women have taken up senior positions.

Women are just as capable as men. Women perform equally as well as men at university and in the early part of their careers. So they (we) cannot be any less capable when it comes to striving for the next move on the career ladder, namely a senior position. Since women are as capable, we must consider exactly why there is such a large disparity in terms of female representation in senior and executive positions, especially in the FTE 350, and take measures to rectify the position.

If we are to really tackle this disparity then a voluntary code simply won’t do. The business secretary must know this, and should therefore be taking much stronger action.