Should UK Boards Follow Cameron's Lead?

Last Updated Apr 15, 2008 1:58 PM EDT

Conservative Party leader David Cameron's promise to fill one-third of his Cabinet posts with women if he makes it to Number 10 has had employment lawyers up in arms. Positive discrimination, points out Glovers solicitors, contravenes EU discrimination laws. Anyway, affirmative action breeds resentment in the ranks and is seen by working women as unnecessary and patronising, right? Yet, Norway famously insists that women make up at least 40 per cent of its company's boards.

Would this overcome the entrenched inequalities in UK boards? The number of women reaching board level is rising but it's at a snail's pace. The Equal Opportunity Commission's latest Gender Equality Index found that while 10 per cent of the FTSE 100 directorships are held by women, it has taken 65 years to reach this stage. A separate survey by the Institute of Directors with Croner Reward found the pay gap between men and women widening to an average 22 per cent. An article in Portfolio magazine also reveals stalemate in the progress of senior businesswomen in the US.

Glenda Stone of Aurora, the businesswomen's network, applauds Cameron: "He's drawing attention to the issue and showing that he's got a strategy to tackle it," she says. Companies, like political parties, should reflect the society in which they work. "It's not about tokenism; it's about merit, about sharing the best jobs. But they are not always made available for women candidates."

Want to know more? Check out Alison Maitland and Avivah Wittenberg-Cox's Why Women Mean Business