The P word

Wanted: a senior civil engineer, with a strong commercial background and experience of working in Asia, currently serving on the board of a FTSE 100 company. There aren’t many men with that CV, but this was the brief given to headhunters seeking the first female non-executive director for FTSE 250 company Balfour Beatty earlier this year. If such a person exists, they have yet to find her. In the end, the contractor had to look overseas and outside the industry — Canadian Maureen Kempston Darkes is a former group vice president of General Motors and a lawyer by training. Since 2011’s Davies Report highlighted the under-representation of women in British boardrooms – just 12.5% of the boards of FTSE 100 companies were female, and it would take more than 70 years to achieve gender parity at the current rate of change – there has been progress, but construction still lags behind other industries. As Balfour Beatty’s experience shows, there just aren’t that many senior women coming up through the ranks, and those who have made it almost always have an HR, finance or marketing background. In this piece for Construction Manager magazine, I asked how companies can ensure a ready supply of female board members for the future – without resorting to (whisper it) positive discrimination.