PM bangs the drum for more women business leaders and entrepreneurs

David Cameron and leaders from Nordic and Baltic countries are attending a summit today which is focused on how to get more women at the top of the career ladder and encourage more women entrepreneurs.

David Cameron has said that he would not necessarily rule out a quotas system to get more women on the boards of British companies.

The Prime Minister and leaders from Nordic and Baltic countries are attending a summit today which is focused on how to get more women at the top of the career ladder and encourage more women entrepreneurs.

The Nordic Future Forum, which was launched last year to discuss common social challenges between Britain and Nordic and Baltic countries, is discussing women in business and how to keep older people in the workforce for longer.

David Cameron says Britain’s economic recovery could be speeded up if there were more women in the boardroom, citing evidence that this improved companies’ performance. A 2010 McKinsey report shows that companies with women on their management boards are performing 56 per cent better than companies run exclusively by men, for instance. He hopes the number of women on UK boards can be increased through encouragement and making the business case for it, but if this does not work he says he has not ruled out quotas.

The UK delegation at the meeting included Joanna Shields, Vice President and Managing Director, Facebook Europe, Middle East and Africa, Julia Hobsbawm Chief Executive, Editorial Intelligence, and  Helena Morrissey, Chief Executive Officer of Newton Investment Management Ltd who spoke about the 30% Club’s plans to get more women on the boards of UK companies. She said the role of investors was now a key focus. The 30% Club is holding an investor seminar on 24 February and a good practice guide is due to be published shortly which will help investors engage with company management.

The Nordic Future Forum says the main reason for gender inequality in the workplace is children. It says: "In general the participation of mothers in the labour market is 11.5 per cent lower than that of women without children. For fathers the participation is instead 8.5 per cent higher than for men without children."

It continues: "In many countries women still take greater responsibility for the home and family than men. This probably also prevents them from investing in careers as managers and from daring to take the step of becoming business operators. By extension this means that societies miss out on a competent workforce and thereby important factors for growth and welfare."

The Forum will look at questions such as how social security systems can be improved so that family life and work life can be combined; what is needed for men to take greater responsibility for the home and family; how can girls’ education can be improved to make them more inclined to take risks and see themselves to a greater extent as leaders and entrepreneurs; and what the state can contribute to level out the differences between women and men.

Launching the summit, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said only three out of ten European entrepreneurs are women and only one out of ten board members of the largest companies listed on the national stock exchange of EU Member States is a woman. He added that the disparity is widest at the very top where only 3 per cent of such companies have a woman directing the highest decision-making body.

He said: "It is clear that we have a lot to benefit from improving the situation for women in the labour market. Not only does it make economic sense in itself to fully use the knowledge and talent of half the labour force. But there is also an increasing body of research showing that gender diversity pays off in terms of business performance."

Earlier this week in Sweden over a hundred businesswomen gathered in Stockholm to listen to give their ideas on how to promote more women leaders and encourage more women entrepreneurs. Some of the ideas put forward included ensuring schools and educational systems encourage entrepreneurship; promoting more flexible ways of managing careers and children; and the need for women as visible role models in companies and mentorship programmes.

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