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Women on Boards - Top Men Talk Like Women at Last

11/04/2013 10:19 BST | Updated 10/06/2013 10:12 BST

So this is what political success feels like. By the end of the launch of the annual Cranfield Female FTSE Report on women on boards I was quite frankly stunned. I have spent decades, most of my adult life, going to meetings of women's networks and attending conferences where women get together and say that they should be running big businesses, they should be on the boards of top FTSE companies, and they shouldn't be held back from promotion to senior management.

Now the men - important men - are saying all this themselves. They have definitely nicked all our best lines. I felt I should pinch myself to be convinced that this is really reality as first Sir Roger Carr, President of the CBI, next Vince Cable, Business Secretary, and then Lord Davies, the author of the 2011 government report on Women on Boards, told the predominantly female audience at the 2013 Female FTSE launch that the big issue for British business now is about tapping into the talents of women in order to compete globally.

Sir Roger, after some (decidedly male) military metaphors about a war of attrition and victory in a battle being at its greatest risk when it is almost won, then got going on the female talk. " Platitudes are not enough. Building the pipeline (of female executives) is the priority in order to liberate the talent that is latent in so many women, " he declared. He had already told us that the CBI is committed to getting more women on boards and that "Women on boards and women in boardrooms make British business better."

Blimey, as mother always told me not to say, but I do think it's appropriate here. All this 'women are really great' stuff used to be said just by women in women's groups. But not any more. Now it's in the political mainstream and even the CBI and the Government have got the point and have seen the business case for promoting women to top jobs.

Vince Cable told us the issue of women being 'heavily under-represented at the top end of business' is not political correctness and 'I have written today to the 67 of the FTSE 250 companies who have no women on their boards." 94 out of the FTSE 100 companies now had women on boards and he was still waiting for a reply from the 6 whose boards are currently all male. He also reeled off a list of all the progress made in BIS, his own Government department, so that nearly half of all BIS senior management are women. Sir Humphrey would not be at all happy, which is very good news.

Lord Davies told us there is no room for complacency because, although real progress has been made with 17.3% of FTSE 100 board directors now women, up from 15% a year ago and 12.5% in 2010, there was still a need to keep momentum going to get to his and the Government's target of 25% women on top boards by 2015.

"This is about a social change. It's a huge issue facing corporate UK, " he said and he revealed that only 2 years ago when he published his report: "it was uncomfortable talking to some chairmen. The chairmen blamed the headhunters and the headhunters said (the lack of skilled executive) women were the problem."

"Progress to date has been excellent" he continued. "But, for the future, we have to keep the pressure up. If we don't, then the boards will say this was a fad and they will go back to the way they were". Well it seems to me that may be already happening. The 2013 Female FTSE report shows clearly that progress in female board appointments has stalled in the past 6 months with female appointments dropping back to around a quarter of all FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 appointments, although they had surged to over 40% in the six months before that. Keeping on pushing for change was definitely the take away message of the 2013 Female FTSE launch.

Other speakers at the event were the report authors, Dr Ruth Sealy and Professor Susan Vinnicombe from the Cranfield School of Management, plus Maria Miller, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and Minister for Women and Equalities. There were questions from lots of top women including Helena Morrissey, Chief Executive of Newton Investment Management and the founder of the 30% Club. The women were great, but to me they weren't the most astonishing thing.

The men have stolen our lines and they are talking like women. It is a bit stunning and it can bring you up short when a man you've had a long argument with caves in and agrees with you. But in this case I'm all for it.