How can we get more female representation on company boards?

A guest blog from Maggie Berry, managing director of


Nobody likes being told what to do, and big corporations are no different. So what will happen if the Prime Minister goes ahead and brings in laws to force companies to have more female board members?


During a speech at an event in Sweden, a country with a high proportion of female board members, Mr Cameron said he was not in favour of quotas to tackle the lack of female representation, but he will consider it if companies do not take action. He pointed out that there was overwhelming evidence that companies are run better when men and women work alongside each other.


At present, just 15% of the directors at major companies in the UK are women. In Sweden, women hold a quarter of board positions, and in Norway the percentage is even higher at 40%.


Mr Cameron went on to point out that although female board representation has increased slightly over the last couple of years, the rate needs to accelerate so that women make up at least 30% of board members. That’s where quotas could play a part and they should not be ruled out as a last resort. The Prime Minister also suggested that setting targets, rather than quotas, could be the first step – an initiative I certainly favour over quotas.


A government commissioned report last year said quotas should be imposed if companies do not increase female representation on their boards to at least one in four by 2015.


Helena Morrissey, a City fund manager who was accompanying the PM on his trip, told delegates at the Northern Future Forum summit that quotas could backfire. Women would find it difficult to feel they were an equal member of the board if they thought they were only there to satisfy the quota.


Mrs Morrissey, a mother of nine children, does have a valid point. Surely people should be appointed to the board through merit, not solely to make up the numbers.


What’s the solution? How can we increase the number of women on our boards without resorting to quotas and targets?