Speech

By investing in women, you invest in business: Nicky Morgan

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Women and Equalities Minister speaks at the launch of Cranfield University’s Female FTSE 2015.

Thank you Vince [Cable] and thank you Mark. I agree that whilst we have achieved so much, there is still some way to go, and that building up executives of the future is a particularly important development.

Thank you also to Barclays and Cranfield.

Thank you also to Cranfield for inviting me to the launch of your 16th Female FTSE report.

It’s down to the work of everyone involved in this agenda: Lord Davies and his steering group, Cranfield, male and female business leaders, the 30% Club and many others that the visibility of women in high-ranking roles is now part of a meaningful public debate.

The FTSE report, alongside Lord Davies’ Women on Boards review, enables us to look behind the doors of the world’s biggest businesses and plot the progress of women in the workplace.

Earlier this month, I walked on my first International Women’s Day march as Minister for Women and Equalities. And it was a really special moment.

Today we recognise that the suffragettes fought for more than our vote. They fought for our equal pay and for our seat at the boardroom table.

And their cry for ‘deeds not words’ still echoes around the corridors of FTSE companies.

On the march, as we passed city hall, I looked around at my fellow marchers, and was so pleased to see such a diverse range of people standing shoulder to shoulder for gender equality. Public figures, business owners, teachers, actresses, parents, and importantly of course, men from all walks of life.

Because far from being a ‘women’s’ issue, achieving a fairer representation of women is an issue for everyone, not least businesses.

Achievements

That all starts, as you’d expect the Secretary of State for Education to say of course, in the classroom, and it is the duty of all of us, particularly as parents and teachers to make sure girls make informed choices about subjects and careers and we monitor the impact their choices have on issues such as the gender pay gap.

That is something we are all passionate about.

This includes encouraging girls to take up STEM subjects at school that will take help them to go so far in those sectors.

Sir Davis also told me earlier about the apprentice scheme at Barclays and how around 50% of them are girls.

In my role as both Minister of Women and Equalities, and Education Secretary, I get to meet countless inspirational individuals.

Last month I met Jacqui Miller, the main Board Director of the engineering firm Miller International Limited, at the 2015 UN Women conference.

If you don’t know Miller, I would encourage you all to Google it to see exactly why this is quite an achievement.

Jacqui’s a real tour de force but her achievements shouldn’t be the exception.

That’s why, over the past 5 years, we have continued to strive for real, lasting change for the benefit of women, business and the economy.

We have made incredible progress and our achievements are outstanding:

  • thanks to Glencore’s appointment of Patrice Merrin there isn’t, as Vince said, a single all-male board left in the FTSE 100

  • the gender pay gap has been virtually eradicated for women under the age of 40 who work full-time and the overall pay gap is at its lowest ever level since records began. We want to see this completely eliminated

  • more companies are embedding gender equality right across their business planning by joining up to Think, Act, Report with over 275 companies now signed up, over 2.5 million employees are represented

  • in the future, we will require larger companies, of over 250 staff, to publish some form of gender pay information to further accelerate this progress

  • since the first Davies report in 2011, the number of female directorships on FTSE 100 boards has almost doubled.

  • I’d like to congratulate Severn Trent and Kingfisher, the most recent companies to appoint female CEOs

  • given my former position as Financial Secretary to the Treasury, I’m very pleased to hear that the most popular executive role amongst women is chief finance officer

Report findings

As some of you will know, I spent the nineties and early noughties working as a solicitor alongside many FTSE companies.

Back then, not only were even fewer women on boards, but even fewer women working in law.

We have come a long way since then.

Today, there is at least one woman on every FTSE 100 board and the majority of new entrants into my former profession are women.

And as today’s report tells us, at 23.5%, we are on the cusp of meeting Lord Davies’ target of 25% of women on boards by the end of this year.

We remain confident that this target is very much within reach, providing we keep up the momentum.

As Vince said, just a handful more women on boards will help us achieve this goal.

As these reports show, we have to continue pressing ahead if we really want to improve diversity in the workplace. In the 2013 to 2014 annual reports of the FTSE 100 companies, only 38% addressed diversity in their board evaluation process and of those, only 18% specifically mention gender.

But like Vince, I disagree with those that think the answer lies in quotas. Lord Davies’ voluntary, business-led approach has had a steady, positive impact. And this is how we will drive long-lasting, system, cultural change.

Just look at Helena Morrissey, CEO of Newton Investment Management, Nicola Horlick, Chairman of Rockpool Investments or this year’s Businesswoman of the Year, Jenny Campbell of YourCash.

They didn’t get to where they are thanks to quotas, and neither will the talented young women who look up to them as role models.

If business leaders have the tenacity and determination to get their company onto the FTSE 100, or even the FTSE 250, then they are more than capable of increasing the number of women at the executive level.

Our thriving British economy relies on the talent and skill of the best academics, entrepreneurs, and leaders, and they, of course, include women. Yet we know there simply aren’t enough women in positions of power, and as a progressive and fair country, we should not just be turning this around for ourselves but setting an example for the international community too.

Those girls we are encouraging to take STEM subjects deserve to see strong female leaders at the top of the companies they’ll be aiming for.

When you invest in your female workforce, you invest directly in your business. Like RSA Insurance, a FTSE 100 Company that’s working hard to ensure talented female employees are well-prepared for senior leadership positions.

They’ve nearly tripled the number of women on their executive development programme, and are running female networking events and mentoring programmes.

Recent studies show that the majority of new freelancers are women and a new report by the Umea School of Business and Economics has shown that it’s not just profit margins that increase with greater diversity, but employee satisfaction and happiness too.

Achieving a fair gender balance is not just right for women. It makes, as we heard, good business sense.

And we will continue to work with those industries that understand this, and who have been so supportive of this business-led approach.

Conclusion

It is only by working together, ladies and gentleman, that we will reach, and exceed, our target of 25%.

But in the long term, we should be even more ambitious.

As Sheryl Sandberg, in the video earlier said:

In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.

I want to thank every female board member of a FTSE company for creating a path to the boardroom. By pulling other women up behind them, thousands more will be able to follow in their footsteps.

And we cannot forget those men who act as agents of change. Recognising talent for what it is and bringing down the barriers that stand in the way of progress.

With the fantastic work of Cranfield and Lord Davies, the day will come when female leaders aren’t prefaced by their gender but solely by the talent and enterprise they bring to the table.

On that note, I’d like to hand over to Susan [Professor Susan Vinnecombe Professor of Women and Leadership, Director of the International Centre for Women Leaders, Cranfield University] and Ruth [Dr Ruth Sealy, Visiting Fellow, Cranfield University]. Their research has, for over a decade now, been at the helm of the female leadership discussion.

And we are all extremely grateful for that work.

Thank you.