The Edge

Richard Northedge takes on corporate finance

Should male MPs lecture the City on equality?

Hypocrisy and politicians may be natural bedfellows but just as the general election was called, a committee of 13 male MPs and one female issued a report criticising the City for not promoting women. Pots and kettles come to mind.

Given the Treasury select committee’s overwhelming masculine bias – worse even than the ratio in British boardrooms - it may not be surprising that it has tackled the topic from a male viewpoint.

The conclusions are common sense: that while the City should fish from the widest pool of talent, employers cannot force women into top jobs and not all women want to climb the corporate ladder. The MPs reject Norwegian-style quotas and back governance codes requiring companies to state their policies on promoting women.

So, having said nothing radical, this somewhat pointless report will disappear into the election mayhem and be ignored when parliament returns.

However, it should be read by some of the lobbyists who do not believe market forces are providing opportunities for people of both genders. And those advocating an equal split in boardrooms and senior management should consider why that has not been achieved if employer prejudice is not to blame.

Instead of looking at the top of organisations, the MPs should have studied the bottom. If women don’t attempt to get onto the bottom rung of the ladder they will never climb to the top. The prejudice starts at school, where business and economics are still seen as boys’ subjects, as examination numbers show.

After that, so long as there is equality of opportunity, equal numbers in management tiers are irrelevant. Some men have to keep climbing the career ladder against their preference; some women are able to choose not to, putting other issues above vocation. But so long as they have the choice they should not be pressured into staying on the treadmill to suit the equality lobbyists.

Perhaps when parliament returns the select committee’s new chairman will ensure he has more than a token female on his team. Perhaps the chair will even be a woman – but don’t bank on it. Westminster really should get its own house in order before it gives orders to the City.

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