LONDON (THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION) - British top company executives were condemned as "pitiful" on Thursday (May 31) for saying women lack the experience and desire to sit on boards, as calls for greater equality in the workplace grow.
The government wants Britain's 350 biggest companies to make sure at least a third of their board members are women by 2020 but less than 60 have achieved this target, according to the Hampton-Alexander Review, an independent government-backed body.
"There aren't that many women with the right credentials and depth of experience to sit on the board - the issues covered are extremely complex" was one of the excuses that the review said it had been given by FTSE chief executives.
"I don't think women fit comfortably into the board environment" was another of the "top 10 excuses" for not having more women boardmembers, along with "most women don't want the hassle or pressure of sitting on a board".
Diversity in the workplace has come under scrutiny since the introduction of a law last year requiring employers with more than 250 workers to report their gender pay gap each year.
Many companies explained pay differentials as reflecting a lack of women in senior roles, the review said.
"It's shocking that some businesses think these pitiful and patronising excuses are acceptable reasons to keep women from the top jobs," said business minister Andrew Griffiths.
"Our most successful companies are those that champion diversity," he said in a statement.
Some states like Norway have pioneered gender quotas, requiring nearly 500 firms to raise the proportion of women on their boards to 40 per cent.
"These excuses are pathetic and frankly embarrassing," said Jemima Olchawski, head of policy at the Fawcett Society, which lobbies for gender equality.
"The idea that some of the most powerful people in the business world have so little self-awareness, appetite for innovation or interest in challenging overt sexism leaves me deeply worried about the future for our economy."