Region’s firms need to welcome more women on board

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The rise of the female board director appears to have hit a glass ceiling in Yorkshire.

Research from accountancy firm BDO LLP shows that the proportion of women on the boards of Yorkshire’s top 250 companies has stagnated at 17 per cent, the same level as last year.

As Minister for Women and Equalities Nicky Morgan said, a higher female representation is not only good for women, but good for business too.

“Boards which reflect their customers and clients are better able to understand their needs and respond to them,” she said.

Many critics of gender equality rail against enforced quotas and they have a good point. Boards should employ women because they’re good at what they do not because society has told them to.

Beth Butterwick, outgoing CEO of clothing chain Bonmarche, is against enforced female quotas, but says that women bring a healthy combination of IQ and EQ to​ ​the boardroom.

“​While the boys’ club remains a precedent in many UK blue chip companies, I do not believe that strict quotas is the way to achieve a greater balance,” she said.

“Senior appointments should be made on merit, and regardless of gender, this requires sheer hard work and in many instances making tough family decisions.”

The issue has become politicised in recent years, with the Government appointing City grandee Lord Davies of Abersoch to review gender balance at the top of British business.

Yet Yorkshire is lagging the national trend, with female directors making up 19 per cent of FTSE 250 boardrooms and 26 per cent of the FTSE 100.

The region has shown signs of improvement. In 2014, BDO’s research found that only 12 per cent of directors at the region’s top 150 companies were female, which was an increase on the 10 per cent recorded in 2013.

Terry Jones, head of BDO in Yorkshire, said: “You lose so much by not reflecting your population. It is not reflecting the contribution that they make. Equally, you are restricting the pool of talent to choose from if you do not have gender balance.”

​Victoria Woodings from brand specialist Principle Holdings, who was named Yorkshire FD of the Year in 2015, added: ​“While I believe it is positive for businesses to have a focus, I would not want to ever be in doubt that I am in a role because of a business target but that actually I am the best possible person for the job – regardless of gender.”​

The target set by Lord Davies for women to make up 25​ per cent​ of FTSE 100 boards by the end of 2015 was met. The figure stands at 26​ per cent​ and none of the boards are all-male.

“At the top of the company you should represent your workforce and your consumers. People forget that 51​ per cent​ of the working population in the UK is female,” said Lord Davies.

But his report showed that 260 of the 286 women on boards are non-executive directors, with only a handful holding key decision-making positions. Many Yorkshire firms are guilty of this trick – employing female non-execs to boost their gender quota.

However, some have embraced the debate and prominent female leaders in Yorkshire include Dorothy Thompson, chief executive of Drax, Liz Barber, director of finance and regulation at Yorkshire Water, and Manjit​ ​Wolstenholme, chairman of Provident Financial.

Chemicals company Croda International, which has performed badly in the past, has upped its game. It appointed Lloyds deputy chairman Anita Frew as chairman last March.

Blackfriar will cheer when housebuilder Persimmon, sausage maker Cranswick and insulation group SIG also get on board

So does it really matter? Former business secretary Vince Cable said: “The evidence is irrefutable: boards with a healthy female representation outperform their male-dominated rivals.”

Yorkshire firms need to up their game and realise that out-dated perceptions of female directors have no place in a healthy, forward thinking company.