Should FTSE Companies Be Required To Put Women On Their Boards?

07/12/2010 16:04 | Updated 22 May 2015

If the dramatic near-collapse of the banking sector taught us anything, it's that old-boy networks that brush mishaps and blunders under the carpet can be a recipe for disaster.

We need to widen the gene pool, bring in new blood that will not repeat the mistakes of the past and ensure that we have our brightest minds warding off economic gloom.

And one of the best ways of doing that, according to the Government, is to give more women positions of power in the business world.

Women make up 46 of FTSE 100 company board membership, according to research by Cranfield University. One in four FTSE 100 companies has no female directors at all, with Marjorie Scardino at publisher Pearson one of just a handful of women chief executives.

Big companies are not the only ones with few women in top jobs, though.

The same research revealed that in the FTSE 250 index, the percentage of female board members shrinks to around 7. Other countries such as Spain have also made similar moves.

Nevertheless, if this female quota system is the path chosen by former Standard Chartered chairman Davies, it is bound to come up against resistance from some quarters. After all, if companies are still failing to appoint female executives and board members, that is evidence enough that there are at least some business leaders left who would prefer to keep women out of the boardroom.

One of the old clichés that people of that opinion often roll out (in private of course) is that women do not have the temperament for business. Something about lacking the required killer instinct. However, research has shown that, once in the driving seat, female directors actually tend to be more ruthless than their male counterparts.

A London School of Economics study of nearly 2,000 companies between 1996 and 2003 concluded that boards with more women were better at tasks such as "executive supervision and monitoring". It also found that while female traits often help poorly run companies, they can have a negative effect on well governed businesses because women are so much tougher.

So on that basis, bringing in a few women to manage the recovery of the troubled banking sector could be just what the doctor ordered.

Jessica Bown is an award-winning freelance journalist, columnist and editor with more than 10 years experience. After starting her career at the Daily Express, she was then recruited for The Sunday Times where she spent two years before going freelance in 2006. She still writes regularly for The Sunday Times as well as other national newspapers such as The Guardian and a variety of magazines and websites including Walletpop.


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