Enforcing quotas for the number of women in the boardroom could be a last resort to boost female numbers in executive jobs, David Cameron said on Thursday.
The prime minister told journalists the option could be considered "if we cannot get there by other means," during a summit in the Swedish capital, Stockholm.
"So the real nub of the issue is how do we accelerate, how do we fast forward to having at least 30% of boards made up by women.
"That's where you get down to quotas, which I don't think you should ever rule out. If you can't get there in other ways, then maybe you have to have quotas."
A recent report government-commissioned report by Lord Davis recommended FTSE 300 firms increase the number of women on boards by 25% by 2015.
The prime minister's comments followed a speech where he said the economic recovery was being hampered by the lack of women in business.
"The evidence is that there is a positive link between women in leadership and business performance, so if we fail to unlock the potential of women in the labour market, we're not only failing those individuals, we're failing our whole economy," Cameron said on Thursday.
But Labour's Yvette Cooper said "warm words" were not enough and called for the prime minister to "wake up" to the impact his policies were having on women.
"The reality is that his own government's policies are holding both women and the economy back. And 32,000 women chose not to look for work last year because of the costs associated with working, including childcare.
“Government economic policy has pushed women's unemployment up to record levels, and 32,000 women chose not to look for work last year because of the costs of working, including child care. As long as the government is weakening action on the gender pay gap, pushing up women's unemployment, cutting support for childcare, and exploring options for weaker maternity rights, they are making it harder not easier for women to get promoted throughout their lives. And that makes it much harder to get women to board level too.
A Downing Street spokesperson said the government did not have plans to introduce quotas in law, adding: "What we want is for the impetus for this to come from businesses themselves.
"We are working with businesses to try to promote greater representation of women on boards."
Mark Littlewood, Director General at the Institute of Economic Affairs said it would be "ill-advised" to introduce quotas.
“In a free market, people progress because of their skills and qualifications, not because of their race or gender. Forcing more women into boardrooms will not boost productivity, it is a distraction from the actual question of how to get the economy to grow.”
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