“New Taylor Wimpey CEO appointed to disquiet from key investor” read one headline.  “Taylor Wimpey names new chief in shadow of Elliott” read another.  “Taylor Wimpey snubs Elliot over new chief” read a third.  Why were these headlines so refreshing?  Because while the appointment of Jennie Daly as the CEO of Taylor Wimpey marked a milestone in the male-dominated industry - as the company became the first UK housebuilder to appoint a female CEO - it wasn’t the thrust of the media coverage.

With Irene Dorner in the chair already, Taylor Wimpey became only the third company in the FTSE 100 to have a female CEO and a female chair (the other two are Admiral, the insurer and Severn Trent, the water company).  Alongside FTSE 250 landlord Grainger’s boss Helen Gordon, and Amanda Fisher, the CEO of Amey, Daly is a rare female CEO.  Still the new boss’s gender wasn’t the point.

So I feel something of a turncoat writing this piece and focusing on that very issue.  The appointment of Jennie Daly shows how far the male-bastion of construction has come - while her singularity demonstrates how much the sector has yet to achieve.  Because women are, currently, dramatically underrepresented in the housebuilding and wider construction industry.  

The simple way to move us towards equality and affect real change quickly, is to introduce quotas.  At the start of the year, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen made a fresh push to boost women’s representation on boards, trying to unblock European legislation for a woman’s quota that has been stuck since 2012.  She is right to do this.

We need to give women what some people might consider over-representation (on candidate short-lists, for instance - not just at board level).  Without doing so, we remain in a vicious circle.  Because those who are under-represented will feel the profession must not be for them. They’ll look at careers elsewhere, and the industry will continue to be male-heavy.

By way of example, I think back six or seven years ago to when Vince Cable was Business Secretary and tabled plans to diversify boards, announcing an aim of 20 per cent black and ethnic minority FTSE100 directors in five years' time.  At the time, there was pushback against the idea.  

Last year a  boardroom diversity report highlighted that there were no black executives in any of the top three roles at Britain’s 100 biggest companies.  The same report found that only three per cent of leaders in those top three positions had ethnic minority backgrounds, the same proportion as in 2014.  The number of black people in the leadership pipeline had decreased, meaning that black representation at the top of British businesses looked unlikely to improve in the near future.  I can’t help feeling that, had Sir Vince’s quota been introduced,  where progress would have been measured by numbers, more headway might have been made.

I understand the premise behind the arguments against positive discrimination (I think we all winced when a music school banned men from enrolling on its conducting course recently - they justified the move by saying that the gender ratio in the profession is still under ten per cent and that this was “a wonderful opportunity to help tip the balance”).  In the current climate, however, I think this is misplaced.  It’s not tokenism.  It’s not a box-ticking exercise.  There are plenty of people who insist that any attempt to level the playing field is special treatment, and that we must focus on equality of opportunity.  They ignore the fact that levelling the playing field is enabling quality of opportunity.    

Of course we want genuine equality.  But the sad fact is that we need positive discrimination, otherwise things will never change (or they will change too slowly).  It will take time and effort, but I hope we can get to a point where diversity won’t even be a consideration, and articles like this become obsolete.


about the author
Vicky Short
Vicky Short

Victoria Short

ceo, randstad uk