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Female director roles see increase
The boards of FTSE 100 companies are now more than 17 per cent female, according to David Cameron's official spokesman
Women have filled almost half the vacancies for directors at top UK firms in the last six months, Downing Street said as it emerged that Britain is leading opposition to an EU-wide quota.
Prime Minister David Cameron's official spokesman said Brussels should not dictate legal limits on the issue and claimed efforts to encourage a voluntary shift in the UK were proving successful.
The boards of FTSE 100 companies were now 17.3% female, he told reporters, up from 12.5% in February 2011 when an independent report warned that a lack of women was damaging firms. In that report, former business minister Lord Davies recommended that quotas should be imposed if firms failed to bring the proportion up to at least a quarter by 2015.
Mr Cameron has complained that male-dominated boardrooms are "failing our whole economy" and promised to learn lessons from countries with better records, some of which impose quotas.
But in a letter obtained by the Financial Times, Business Secretary Vince Cable warned European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso that there was widespread opposition to EU legislation.
It was signed by a sufficient number of his counterparts from other EU states to suggest any bid to impose a minimum could be rejected under the EU's complex voting system.
Mr Cable hopes the message will persuade the Commission to drop a quota of 40% by 2020 at all listed companies reported to be part of a package of measures due out next month.
In the letter, he wrote that all countries wanted to break down the "myriad barriers women encounter throughout their career" and promote fair chances and opportunities for women executives. But it said various national measures across EU member states "must be granted more time" to prove they could increase female representation.
"Therefore, we do not support the adoption of legally binding provisions for women on company boards at the European level."
The letter was co-signed by ministers from Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta and the Netherlands. Between them they wield 94 votes - sufficient for a blocking minority.
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