FTSE 100 on target to reach 25% of women on boards

Labour Party

Good news from the prestigious Cranfield School of Management. Its latest research found the percentage of women on boards has now reached 22.8% – close to the 25% target set by Lord Davies for 2015.

The report said that great progress has been made since the publication of Lord Davies’ report. They found the percentage of women on the boards of the FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 had increased by 82% and 124% respectively.

While this is good news, of course, we should approach these latest figures with caution. While the last of the all-male FTSE 100 companies appointed its first woman director earlier in the year, there are still 28 from the FTSE 250 which have all male boards. In addition, the report hasn’t outlined how many of the women from the FTSE 100 and 250 are non-executive directors. Some of them will be of course and this means there input could be limited depending on how the individual company views non-executive directors. They may have a seat at the table but will they have the opportunity to voice their opinions?

Just yesterday, for example, the Independent reported that FTSE 250 miner, Petra Diamonds, finally appointed a woman to its board.
But the South African accountant and businesswoman, Octavia Matloa, will join the diamond miner as an independent non-executive director sitting on its audit committee. How much power she will have to affect change is up for debate. I hope that her seat at the table isn’t just as a result of Vince Cable’s letter to 28 FTSE 250 companies who he told to improve the diversity of their boards after it was revealed 28 companies from the FTSE 250 had no women on them.

Despite the concerns the figures from Cranfield are promising. Furthermore, the academics predict that the FTSE 100 will hit the 25% target during 2015, with the FTSE 250 following in 2016. Just 24 more women are needed in the FTSE 100 and 150 across the FTSE 250 in order to reach the target of 25%.

However, mandatory targets will be far more effective and a figure of 50% could be achieved much quicker with enforceable goals.

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.


Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

After weeks of discussion this week saw the release of Royal Mail shares. On Friday, the first day of selling, 225 million were traded at 330p each. 10 million were sold in the first 30 seconds alone, and by close-of-play prices had increased to 455p each – a rise of 38%.

Billy Hayes, head of the Communication Workers Union, called the sale a “tragedy” and it was claimed that the organisation had been put on the market for £700 million too little – something which Friday’s explosion in share prices appeared to corroborate.

The BBC’s Robert Peston framed the privatisation as a short-term boon for the Coalition Government. He conceded that – as a purely political calculation – allowing 690,000 people to profit made sense for both Vince Cable and Michael Fallon’s parties, but wrote that “the government may well in time be found guilty of having privatised the company too cheaply.”

When words like “frenzy” and “stampede” are being used it is usually safe to assume that not everyone is thinking straight. In the 1980s and early 1990s we saw populist privatisations in rail, housing and energy. These decisions were much vaunted at the time, for helping ordinary people ‘get on’. Now though, with consumer prices spiralling and all three sectors characterised by cartels rather than proper competition, privatisation looks to have been badly thought out.

I will therefore be supporting the CWU strike when it happens, and will encourage others to help Save Our Royal Mail. We mustn’t allow a 500 year old organisation to be destroyed for the sake of a quick political buck.

Earlier in the week, meanwhile, David Cameron and Ed Miliband both conducted reshuffles. The Conservatives’ aggressive policies towards women and families mean they’re now polling 13% behind Labour among female voters. Much was made of Cameron’s efforts to redress this through personnel changes, with promotions to Minister of State positions for women Esther McVey, Nicky Morgan and Jane Ellison.

Labour’s reshuffle, meanwhile, saw more senior roles for Rachel Reeves, Emma Reynolds and Gloria de Piero (who becomes the new Shadow Equalities Minister). The changes mean Labour’s Shadow Cabinet is now 44% female – compared to just 18% of the Coalition Cabinet.

For me this is a vindication of Labour’s proactive approach to opening up politics to women. We began the policy of all-women shortlists before the 1997 Election. It was a clear and decisive measure, which allowed the number of Labour women in parliament to increase rapidly compared to Conservatives and Lib Dems. It is now starting to bear fruit at the very top level. The other two main parties – whose laissez-faire philosophies are reflected in their selection processes – have never had the same success.

Cameron is keen to detoxify, and some have criticised his efforts to promote women as purely cosmetic. I myself try not to be too cynical, and welcome the advancement of women across all the political parties. However, to create genuine gender parity among MPs both the Tories and the Lib Dems will have to adopt a more serious, long-term policy – starting at grass roots level. If they do not then both parties’ top teams will, in fifteen or twenty years’ time, be undergoing exactly the same struggle to make themselves look modern.

Women on board figures ‘slow down’ latest research reveals

Labour Party

The latest figures have been published by The Cranfield School of Management and the results show a pretty woeful picture of latest efforts to improve female representation on company boards. Despite the noises made by government and business regarding the issue of women on boards, the latest figures indicate that not only have the numbers not increased they have slowed.

The School’s research found that while in the first half of the financial year 44% of board level appointments at FTSE 100 firms went to women, just 26% were appointed by the second half of the financial year.

The Cranfield School of Management explained the results were so poor because firms had ‘become complacent about the issue.’

Not only have they become complacent but it also suggests how resistant they are to making any significant change. It is now clear that when the issue first entered the headlines businesses did nothing more than pay lip service in the hope government the media, and politicians would leave them alone and the issue would go away. But thankfully this latest and most up to date research provides us with an insight into how seriously (or not) firms are taking the issue.

As I have advocated previously, quotas for women on boards are necessary if we are to redress the balance in any way. This may not be a permanent measure but it is necessary as an immediate response.

Women still only make up 17% of board posts, well below the 25% target recommended by a government-commissioned review so something needs to be done rather than leaving it to fait alone.

The business secretary, Vince Cable, is delivering a speech today in which he will apply further pressure to leading firms to appoint women to their boards.

He has also admitted today, in his speech, that “the momentum appears to be slowing and there has been much less progress in executive appointments.”

He will write to the 27% of FTSE 250 firms with all-male boards warning them to speed up their appointment of women.

This the very minimum he can do, but what will the impact even be? Cable has said that despite these latest woeful figures he is still not inclined to introduce compulsory targets saying a voluntary led approach is still the best way forward.

The report is a timely reminder that there is a long way to go and if we don’t make any serious intervention then the situation is unlikely to improve in any significant way.


FTSE 100 questioned over lack of talented women on boards

Labour Party

It was reported yesterday that the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, has written to the chairmen and chief executives of the seven FTSE 100 companies with all-male boards, urging them to appoint female directors.

His move follows the determination of EU Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding, who warned last year, “I will win the war on quotas”. It’s thanks to her that we will see legislation which will better support talented and experienced women being promoted to company boards.

Commissioner Reding’s hard work last year, has served to make politicians consider their approach on this issue; if they support the idea of mandatory quotas or not this move by Cable shows that they are now, finally taking the issue more seriously.

Companies from the FTSE 100 which have no female representation were been named as: Antofagasta, Glencore, Xstrata, Kazakhmys, Vedanta, Croda, and Melrose. Cable has written letters to all of the above companies and asked them what they plan to do to increase female representation.

Cable says we have seen real progress in the last two-three years and his vision is that Britain will not have a single all male FTSE 100 board by 2015.

But in order to achieve this we must have robust legislation in place which supports the talented women he expects to be promoted, without this it will take time to change mind sets and introduce the concept of women on boards. This could take many years before we see any significant improvement.

As it stands women are still woefully underrepresented and to correct it there must be intervention, which is supported by the business secretary and his colleagues.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

Last week, a female professor of employment and labour law in Canada said in a lecture to UK students in Kent that equality laws hamper women’s progress at work. Professor Fudge believes employment legislation such as the introduction of flexible working patterns, aimed at improving how women are treated in the workplace, reinforce traditional male and female roles in the family and workplace.

The reality is that equality legislation has helped thousands of people ensure they receive equal rights, pay, are not discriminated against and are generally better protected within the workplace.

The introduction of the Equality Act in 2010 wasn’t designed just to help women in the workplace, but aimed to provide better protection for those discriminated against for having a disability, those who face race discrimination and many other things besides.

You can read more on Professor Fudge’s comments here.

We anticipated that David Cameron would deliver his speech on the European Union last week. It was postponed, however, due to the terrible Algerian hostage crisis and it is unclear when exactly it will be re scheduled, although William Hague said yesterday on the Marr show that it would happen possibly as early as this week. A final decision on the date of the delivery, it is believed, will be announced today (Monday).

However, embargoed extracts of the speech have been released to journalists already, and Downing Street decided it was too late for them to be retracted.

In the released extracts Cameron warns: “If we don’t address these challenges, the danger is that Europe will fail and the British people will drift towards the exit.”

The British people cannot ‘drift towards an exit’, Britain is a member of the European Union and to drift away from it (and to put the responsibly on the British people for that happening) is completely inaccurate statement.

There is little agreement within the Coalition about the direction and next steps of the relationship. Dr Fox, for example, told BBC One’s Sunday Politics programme: “I think ultimately there has to be an in-out referendum because otherwise we’re going to have our politics in Britain constantly undermined by this debate and I think it’s very important that we settle one way or another the European argument for a generation.”

Meanwhile Business Secretary Vince Cable warned against a referendum. He said the EU needs to be reformed but threatening a referendum risks increasing economic uncertainty at a time of extreme fragility. You can read more on this here and here.

Maybe we will hear the speech in full this week and we can debate on the detail with more knowledge then, but the extracts we have seen so far should not come as a surprise to those of us who have been following the debate so far.

Nigel Farage appears disproportionately often on BBC Question Time

Labour Party

There is only one politician who has been on Question Time more than Nigel Farage and that’s Business Secretary Vince Cable, according to data compiled from 4 December 2008 to 22 November this year (excluding Question Time’s annual visits to Northern Ireland).

Question Time is the most-watched political programme in Britain, its political make-up is vitally important. An appearance on the panel establishes you as a commentator or as a politician/political party of serious standing. You become part of the BBC’s construction of ‘official Britain’, of the country’s image it contrives to reflect. In short, the individual and political party represented on Question Time gains credibility in a way it would be difficult to achieve otherwise.

Farage’s frequent appearances cannot be explained by electoral success. UKIP is not a party with mass support, or indeed much support at all. Votes cast and seats won are, ultimately, the only sensible test for political parties.

UKIP’s lack of tangible electoral success is quite striking. They may have polled relatively well in the three recent by-elections, but they didn’t win. A political party which cannot win is, I would suggest, of little use to anyone. UKIP do not, of course, have any seats in the House of Commons.

UKIP is neither more nor less than a fringe party in British politics. The number of votes cast in the 2010 general election shows just how far away UKIP is from any kind of breakthrough in returning MPs to the House of Commons. The three main parties polled as follows: Conservative – 10,703,654 votes Labour – 8,606,517 votes Lib-Dems – 6,836,248 votes UKIP, on the other hand, gained a derisory 919,471 votes, 9,784,183 behind the Tories and 7,687,046 fewer than Labour.

UKIP do, of course, have seats in the European Parliament. At the last Euro elections in 2009 seats gained were: Conservative – 26 (includes one from Northern Ireland and excludes later defections) UKIP – 13 (this again takes no account of subsequent defections) Labour – 13 Lib-Dems – 11 (It is worth pointing out that the European Parliament elections are conducted under a system of proportional representation which improves the showing of smaller parties).

When we look at local election results, the minuscule nature of UKIP’s appeal becomes even more apparent – 139 councillors, mostly in parishes, and just 21 at district level.

During the period December 2008 to November 2012 there were 704 panel slots on Question Time, filled by Party as follows:

Liberal Democrats
Vince Cable (12)
Chris Huhne (7)
Shirley Williams (7)
Paddy Ashdown (6) Menzies Campbell (6) Charles Kennedy (6) Simon Hughes (6) Jo Swinson (6) Sarah Teather (6)

Nigel Farage (11)
Caroline Lucas (8)
Nicola Sturgeon (7)
Elfyn Llwyd (5)
George Galloway (4) Alex Salmond (4) Leanne Wood (4)

Ken Clarke (10)
Theresa May (8)
Sayeeda Warsi (7)
Iain Duncan Smith (6)
Liam Fox (6)

Caroline Flint (10)
Peter Hain (8)
Diane Abbott (7)
Andy Burnham (7)
Alan Johnson (7)

In total, there have been 47 Conservative politicians occupying 137 slots, 51 Labour with 148 slots, 31 LibDems with 109 slots and 18 other taking 57 slots.

There were, in addition, seven trade unionists occupying nine slots, 23 business people with 32 slots, 31 celebrities who had 46 slots, four “campaigners” and “wonks” taking 11 slots. The category “other” – 23 authors, scientists, clergy, retired military, etc. – took 29 slots. However, by far the largest category was journalists (61 occupying 127 slots).

In terms of politicians appearing on Question Time, I would urge the BBC to review their criteria. A very small party such as UKIP should not be invited on to the same extent as Government Ministers. It’s all about balance, something the BBC should take seriously.


My article for the New Statesman on support for mandatory quotas for women on boards

Labour Party

 Last week I wrote a piece for the New Statesman explaining why planned legislation to introduce mandatory quotas for women on company boards is so importnat.  You can read the article and comments from their readers by clicking on this link, or I have pasted the text below.

 Why I support the 40 per cent quota for women on boards

Kickstarting gender equality.

By Mary Honeyball

The proposed introduction of mandatory European quotas for women on the boards of larger companies has sent a ripple of fear through the business world in the UK. Certain company bosses and politicians always fear change. Change involving women is even more scary.

Setting quotas has, however, worked in other 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.

The reality is nobody knows exactly what the European Commission’s legislative proposals stipulate because they have not yet been published. The plans are at present being scrutinised by the Commission’s lawyers. Only when they are happy can Viviane Reding, the Commissioner responsible, announce her plans.

Despite not knowing any of the detail of the draft legislation, the UK’s Business Secretary, Vince Cable, spearheaded opposition to what he assumed Mrs Reding would propose, sending a letter to the European Commission signed by eight other member states. The letter strongly criticised the plans and told Mrs Reding and her colleagues at the Commission that “the UK had no intention of supporting such legislation but thank you very much for the offer.”

I am a member of the European Parliament Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee where debates on mandatory quotas for women on company boards have been taking place for some time. During our committee meeting last month I expressed anger at the UK government’s publication of the letter to Commissioner Reding, saying it was shameful that the British Government was taking such a reactionary line and jumping the gun.

This is another embarrassing episode for the UK in Europe. A chaotic, ill thought through approach like this undermines Britain’s position in the EU. Far from looking powerful and impressive, taking a position which is both reactionary and rigid sends a very negative message to other member states, making the British look weak and foolish.

Mrs Reding’s response to the letter from the UK Business Secretary demonstrated her indignation in no uncertain terms: “European laws on important topics like this are not made by nine men in dark suits behind closed doors, but rather in a democratic process with a democratically elected European Parliament,” was her uncompromising message to Cable.

Away from the political fallout this has created, it is important to consider why female representation on boards is so low. Women perform as well as men at university and in their early careers, so they are no less capable of doing just as well in more senior positions. There are women qualified women to sit on company boards across Europe, many of whom have already been identified by Commissioner Reding.

This proposed European legislation is not intended to dictate to businesses how they structure companies or force them to appoint token women. Mandatory quotas for women on company boards are required to kick start gender equality at this level. While there has been a small improvement in the last year it is not a significant enough leap.

The Cranfield School of Management reported a slight increase in the percentage of women on the boards of the UK’s 100 largest listed companies. Their statistics revealed that 15.6 per cent, of women sit on company boards today compared with 12.5 per cent last March (2011).

We do not yet know the detail of the draft legislation, but we do know Mrs Reding wants the 40 per cent quota to be operative by 2020. If this is successful it will be a huge improvement and something I will be very proud to have supported.

Cameron should forge an alliance for green growth and jobs with Denmark

Labour Party

Nick Clegg has called David Cameron’s antics inBrussels last week, which culminated in Cameron’ failure to get anything forBritain before flouncing out of the negotiations, “bad forBritain“.

Vince Cable, the erratic Lib-Dem Business Secretary, subsequently went further saying, “We need to continue to work with countries in Europe because millions of jobs in Britain depend on it.” 

Cable is right, of course, and David Cameron, George Osborne and their right-wing Eurosceptic colleagues would do well to take note of their beleaguered coalition partners. Though the Tories have gained a slight bounce in the opinion polls at the expense of UKIP, the government still has to carry out its responsibility to the British people.

And that responsibility lies fairly and squarely with the European Union. David Cameron himself has always said he does not want Britain to come out of Europe.

So, come on Mr Cameron. If you believe Britain’s place is in the EU, then stand up for Britain in the Council of Ministers and make sure we are properly represented and that you get the best deal for all of us.

This deal inevitably hinges on the EU Single Market. It was none other than Margaret Thatcher who took us into the Single Market on the excellent grounds that it was good for British business and trade. Se has been proved right ever since.

Made up of a series of measures to boost the European economy, the EU Single Market is the UK’s largest trading area. Already there are 12 further measures on the EU table to improve the Single Market, ranging from a directive on public provision, revision of accounting standards and a new proposal on venture capital.

If the Con-Dem Government is not involved in the discussions on these and the other new Single Market initiatives it will be very bad for Britain.

Cameron and co should also be supporting the forthcoming presidency of the EU Council of Ministers, due to be taken up by Denmark next month. David Cameron, George Osborne et al will, of course, not like the fact that Denmark now has a social democrat government.   

As you would expect, the Danish presidency is putting forward some extremely important initiatives. In particular they are looking beyond austerity to tackle the economic crisis. The Danish presidency, unlike other European leaders, believes growth is an extremely important element in rescuing us from recession and the economic downturn.

Accordingly Denmark is proposing developing green technologies to foster economic growth while at the same time ensuring the preservation of our natural resources.

Now that David Cameron has so spectacularly fallen out with Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, in order to fulfil his pledge to keepBritain in the EU, he would do well to look at rebuilding Britain’s fractured relationships with the smaller EU countries, many of whom have been allies of the UK for a number of years.

Denmark, a Scandinavian country and a natural friend, would be a good place to start. Denmark has a raft of dynamic ideas for Cameron to consider, most of which would be extremely good forBritain.

I will watch developments with interest.

The AV Referendum is about more than Nick Clegg

Labour Party

I am feeling increasingly angry that the AV referendum campaign seems to be coming down to a question of personalities. Yes, it’s good it’s hotting up and there is now some real passion in what, until the last few days, looked like a mere distraction. But changing our antiquated voting system which is out of step with most of the rest of the world should not come down to Nick Clegg, or, for that matter, David Cameron, Ed Miliband or Vince Cable.

I, of course, hold no brief for Nick Clegg who, I agree, has proved a pretty useless Deputy Prime Minister. There is no doubt Clegg is now a toxic commodity, a far cry from the heady days of the pre-general election TV debates.

However, we mustn’t let our views on Clegg cloud the issue. The AV referendum is far more important than one individual.

Not only is it right that Britain changes its voting system to something fairer and more democratic, but we also need to be aware of what the Tories have done to our parliamentary constituencies. As Jackie Ashley pointed out in the “Guardian” yesterday, the Act allowing the referendum on AV also cut the number of constituencies to 600 and made them all more or less the same size. The combination of keeping first past the post and the new gerrymandered constituencies will give the Tories a massive boost.

David Cameron could be on the verge of pulling off a master-stroke if the Yes Campaign loses its momentum and allows the Nos to get a foothold, even, dare I say it, winning. If Britain votes to keep first past the post there is a very real danger that the Tories may be in power for a very long time. It could mean a return to the 1980s and Margaret Thatcher style government.

Just in case you need reminding, Margaret Thatcher presided over unemployment topping one million for more than 10 years, decimated the trade union movement, laid waste large tracts of our industrial heartlands, waged war on Labour in local government, introduced of the poll tax, amongst other horrendous policies which struck at the core of the well-being of our country.

And in each of the general elections which returned Margaret Thatcher, the Conservatives only gained a minority of the votes cast – 43.9 percent in 1979, 42.4 percent in 1983 and 42.4 percent in 1987, due to the undemocratic nature of first past the post and the geographical distribution of the Tory and Labour voters. As I once heard the excellent former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who was a great supporter of proportional representation, say: “Under PR we would not have had Margaret Thatcher.”

I do not believe that the majority of the British people want a return to Thatcher, clothed this time as Cameron, or similar if Dave doesn’t go the distance.

When our electorate did not give any political party a clear majority in the 2010 election, they were telling the political class that they did not want either of the two main parties to govern. This can and does happen. We have, in fact, had a number of hung parliaments since the Second World War, including 1964, twice in 1974 as well as 2010. It seems that British politicians just cannot accept that sometimes it will be like this and that not every general election will produce a clear mandate for one particular party. Our continental counterparts take a much more mature view and are not afraid to form coalition governments when their electorate wishes this to happen. 

Strong government does not always equate to good government the “of the people, by the people, for the people” variety. Voting yes to AV will make the way we choose our representatives fairer and provide a bulwark against governments who seek to impose their own misguided ideology no matter what the consequences may be for the majority of those who live in our country.