East Anglia/UK: MP Therese Coffey leads call for firms to do more to boost the ranks of female executives

Therese Coffey MP

Therese Coffey MP - Credit: Archant

A new report co-authored by a Suffolk MP calls on businesses to take action to ensure that more top jobs are filled in future by women.

The study, published by the Conservative Women’s Forum, says the number of women in senior executive roles at FTSE 100 companies has fallen since 2007, despite the robust business case for gender diversity at all levels.

Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey, co-author of the report together with Mary McLeod MP, who chairs the forum, said good progress had been made in appointing more women to company boards but increasing the number of female executives remained a challenge.

“There is strong evidence that having more women in senior management improves a company’s financial returns, corporate governance and decision-making,” said Dr Coffey.

“As women are the key consumers in society, businesses without executive women are losing their connection with their market. UK companies simply cannot afford not to make the most of their female talent.”

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The report sets out a series of recommendations, arguing that action should be business-led but also ackowledging that the Government could also encourage progress.

It says businesses should collect and publish data on the gender balance in their management “pipeline”, establish mentoring programmes to support women in the pipeline, formalise career break and return to work schemes, normalise flexible and part-time working so that it becomes a non-gender issue and introduce training to tackle “unconscious bias”.

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The report also says businesses should work with schools, colleges and universites to inspire a new generation of female executives, and calls for improved careers advice for girls and for greater support for women through the tax system in areas including childcare.

It also calls for “headhunter” executive search firms to extend their voluntary code of conduct to include improving gender diversity at senior executive levels as well as among non-executive directors, and for shareholders to raise gender diversity as an issue with the companies in which they invest.

However, the report adds that, while there is a need for a change in corporate culture, women executives also need to be proactive in taking responsibility for their own career and personal development.

Mary Macleod said: “A fundamental starting point is to measure the female talent pipeline at all levels, with committed leadership to meeting future targets.

“It is clear that we need to broaden this debate beyond board level and beyond the FTSE to make the changes we need for the next generation of women,” she added.

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