Swinson urges government to put women on bank boards

In the House of Commons yesterday, Jo urged the government to use its leverage over part-nationalised banks to put more women directors on their boards.

The four banks which the government now owns a large stake in (Northern Rock, Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds Group and Bradford & Bingley) have a total of 39 directors on their boards, of which only 3 are women. Jo highlighted research which has shown that companies with a more equal gender balance in their management teams perform better.

Many connections have been made between the financial crisis and gender inequality, with a widely publicised study from Cambridge University suggesting that testosterone plays a role in irrational risk-taking.

Commenting, Jo said:

“It is ridiculous that women make up only 7.7% of the directors on these four banks when women are 52% of the population. Having more women on their boards is not only the right thing to do to promote gender equality, it is also a good thing to do for the performance of the banks. The government has a unique opportunity to redress this imbalance, but it is still sitting on its hands and doing nothing.”

The full text of Jo Swinson’s questions appears below:

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): What steps she plans to take to increase the number of women in public life; and if she will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Government Equalities Office (Maria Eagle): Action by the Government, and particularly by the Labour party, has increased the number of women in Parliament. However, the under-representation of women in public appointments has only improved slowly. Indeed, there has been a recent drop in numbers, which shows that there is more work to be done by all of us who believe that increasing diversity improves decision making across public services. I hope that the hon. Lady and her party will join us in doing that work.

Jo Swinson: I thank the Minister for that reply. She will know that research by the London Business School found that the best-performing teams are of an equal mix of men and women. In fact, a recent study of French companies found that the fewer women managers a French company had, the bigger the drop in its share price since January 2008. Of the 39 directors in the Government-owned banks, just three are women, so why have the Government not acted to put more women on the boards of banks and will they now do so?

Maria Eagle: I am interested to hear the conclusions of the research that the hon. Lady mentions. It is, of course, important to have diverse representation across all public appointments, which is what the question is about. We are shortly to introduce new diversity targets for public appointments, and I believe that the public sector should lead by example. I will pass on the hon. Lady’s comments to my right hon. and hon. Friends in other Departments.

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