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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Gender Balance on Corporate Boards

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

In the House of Commons Meg made the following comments during a debate on a draft Directive of the European Parliament on improving the gender balance among non-executive directors of companies listed on stock exchanges (European Union Document No. 16433/12 and Addenda 1 to 3). The entire debate is available at:   http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmhansrd/cm130107/debtext/130107-0002.htm#1301077000001


Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): Before I move on to my substantive point, which will be brief, I have to correct the statement of the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) that the last Government did nothing on child care. I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that when we took office there was no child care in many parts of the country and there were no options for parents who wanted to work. I know that from my work in the social services sector.


I welcome, however, the Minister’s words about the importance of this issue and the fact that companies are hampering themselves by not having diversity, as this means not doing all they can in the achievement of economic output.


My main point is that the issue is not about imposing quotas. I do not want to see the European Union imposing quotas, but neither do I want to see this country or this Government being complacent about how to move forward towards gender equality - not just in the one area of women on boards, but across our whole culture as well as across our businesses as a whole.


We know that substantive and sustained progress has been made more recently in the appointment of non-executive directors, and we should all welcome it. We saw it previously, but there has been an increase in the number. We also know - here we can learn from the experience of Norway - that it is easier to achieve appointments in the area of non-executive directors. Focusing just on that, however, will not help the vast majority of companies, and it will not help us see greater gender equality.


This weekend, The Observer told us about its research on the 100 top private companies, of which only 64 currently publish their board composition. Of those, 73% have all-male executive directors, and we know, too, that 51% have all-male non-executive directors. If we look at the FTSE 250, we find that 71% of companies have all-male executive directors. This relates not just to who is sitting around the board table, but to what is happening within companies. We need a culture that, right from the time a woman first enters a company, promotes those who have talents and supports them whatever their circumstances.


The hon. Member for Esher and Walton made some important points about both parents being able to work, but we know that all too often it is women who take on the majority of the responsibility for child care. We know from all the statistics on the gender pay gap about the disadvantage that comes from spending time away from work, whether it be working part-time or taking a career break, which impacts for ever on the woman’s earning capacity.


We must look much more broadly at the general culture of work. The hon. Gentleman was right to say that the Government had given the issue a profile, but the discussion in Europe has done so as well, and has enabled people to understand the need for progress. The Government have a much bigger job to do in the world of work overall.


As I said in an earlier intervention, the Government should think seriously about what they, and Parliament as a whole, would want to happen if the progress that is currently being made in relation to non-executive directors did not continue. It is all very well to say that we believe in voluntary arrangements, but if more progress is not made in the future, will the Government opt for more prescriptive measures? If so, what will those measures be?


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