'We work with the best talent available. Gender quotas would not work'
THE boss of a Hull company says minimum quotas of women on company boards will not work and could serve to widen the gender gap.
The eight-strong operating board at Arco comprises a 50/50 split of men and women.
However Thomas Martin, Arco's joint managing director, warned controversial plans to enforce boardroom quotas could simply drive "the old boys' network" underground, while calling into question the ability of women who have been appointed to the boardroom based on talent.
He said: "I think enforcing quotas will not work and could be hugely destabilising.
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"We set out purely to work with the very best talent available – there was no decision based on quotas.
"People have to know it's a merit-based environment and the women I have spoken to on our board are insistent they want to be here because they are the right person for the job."
Mr Martin's comments come in the wake of EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding's assertion that the battle to enforce boardroom quotas "was not over" – despite lawyers warning the plan might be unenforceable.
A proposal seeking backing for a law-abiding companies to appoint at least 40 per cent of its top-table seats to women was this week postponed after running into fierce opposition within the European Commission.
Ms Reding immediately took to Twitter, tweeting: "I will not give up."
Few would argue the number of executive women on boards suggests more could be done, not only to recruit women to the boardroom but also – and arguably more crucial – to provide the right environment to enable them to reach their potential.
Gender quotas have already been introduced in domestic law in France, Italy, Spain, Iceland and Belgium and efforts to address the issue in the UK appear to be having an impact, with women now making up 17.3 per cent of FTSE 100 boards – up from 12.5 per cent only two years ago.
However, many business leaders agree quotas should not be forced, as this could demean the efforts of those who have worked their way to the top.
Mr Martin said: "Our own experience tends to suggest it is the environment that is critical rather than positive discrimination and that agenda profiles around the boardroom table could be based better on the supply, and demand, of the best talent."
Perhaps quite tellingly, away from the work sphere, Mr Martin's home "quota" comprises himself along with one wife, two daughters, three sisters, four chickens "and instructions to kill the cockerel".
Arguably, this gives him a brilliant insight into why a balanced meritocracy is the key to success.
"I do not think we are ever going to get equality around Britain's boardroom tables.
"To achieve that there would have to be as many incompetent women as there are incompetent men and, do you know what? That is simply not going to happen."