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Breaking the glass ceiling

5 August 2011

Theresa May and Business Secretary Vince Cable recently sent out a letter to all FTSE 350 companies setting out the business case for increasing the representation of women in senior positions. It quoted figures which show that companies with more women on their boards outperform their rivals.

Before the stampede to fill their boards with women, employers should remember that the Equality Act stopped short of allowing positive discrimination. What it does permit is positive action to encourage an increase in representation where minorities exist. Positive action is limited to very particular circumstances, including when the man and woman are equally qualified.

The government will be hoping that this guidance will encourage firms to promote more women to senior positions, without the need to pass additional legislation. However, as the law currently stands, firms will need to be careful if they wish to promote based on gender rather than competency, as this could lead to claims of discrimination from male candidates.

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