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Lord O’Donnell criticises private sector approach to gender equality

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Liz Draper
WVoN co-editor 

British private sector companies are appointing women to non-executive positions instead of senior executive roles, according to former cabinet secretary Lord O’Donnell.

In an interview with the Financial Times, he suggests that businesses are artificially improving gender balance on their boards by appointing more women as non-executives, rather than having women run the company.

“I’m really, really worried about the private sector in terms of its failure to pick up on a huge reservoir of talent in terms of women”, he told the paper.

“I think this whole non-exec thing is a bit of a joke.”

Lord O’Donnell’s comments have drawn attention back to the issue of female representation on the boards of Britain’s biggest companies, which has been a growing concern since early last year.

A report by Lord Davies, published last February, noted that in 2010, 15.6 per cent of FTSE 100 non-executive directorships, and just 5.5 per cent of executive directorships, were held by women (see WVoN coverage).

One in five FTSE 100 companies had no female board members at all.

Although these figures represented an increase on previous years, Lord Davies called the rate of change “too slow.”

The report recommended that FTSE 100 boards aim to achieve at least 25 per cent female representation by 2015.

However, the response has been minimal, with only 33 FTSE 100 companies responding to the request to set targets.

Figures released by the business department earlier this month show that the number of female executives on FTSE 350 boards fell slightly over the last year.

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