David Cameron, Vince Cable, Helen Whitehead

The claim of a link between more women on boards and enhanced corporate performance lies at the heart of the government’s ongoing threat of quotas if major businesses don’t increase the number of women on their boards ‘voluntarily’. Among the people who’ve made the most vocal claims about the alleged link have been David Cameron and Vince Cable. We’ve pressed both for evidence of the link, and nothing has been forthcoming.

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that David Cameron’s office passed our last request for evidence to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (‘DBIS’) for an official response, and nothing has been forthcoming. Vince Cable at the DBIS has made some truly absurd claims about the corporate benefits from having more women on boards. We’ve written separately to him twice asking him for his evidence, again with no result. The last time we wrote to him was on 21 July:

120721 open letter mailed to Vince Cable

Last Tuesday, exactly a month after sending the letter, I received an email response not from Vince Cable but Helen Whitehead, Assistant Director at the DBIS. I’d separately invited Ms Whitehead and Caroline Normand, a colleague at the DBIS, to my forthcoming talk at the IEA. This was the start of Ms Whitehead’s email:

Thank you for inviting Caroline and myself to the event being held at the Institute of Economic Affairs on the 29 August and for your letter to Secretary of State, Vince Cable, (dated 21 July). As policy lead for Women on Boards I have been asked to respond to the latter. On the former, I am afraid that both Caroline and myself will be on annual leave on the 29 August and therefore unable to attend the event. This is regrettable as I would very much have liked to attend but wonder if you would be agreeable to meet with me the next time you are in London to discuss the issue in detail and to cover the points raised in your letter to Secretary of State.

Given that we’d publicly challenged Vince Cable in an open letter to supply his evidence for a causal link, I replied to Ms Whitehead saying that I thought a meeting would probably be futile, our positions being poles apart, and I asked for an official response to the points in my letter to Vince Cable. I haven’t received a response to that email, so I think we may safely say that the government has effectively admitted it has no evidence of a link.

What are we left with? A social engineering exercise financed by the business sector, which can only damage the sector’s performance, the whole thing being driven by the ongoing threats of quotas from a Conservative-led coalition. David Cameron, Vince Cable, Lord Davies of Abersoch and others should hang their heads in shame, as should the many FTSE100 chairmen who’ve been complicit through their support of the 30% club and similar initiatives.

If Ms Whitehead provides any alleged ‘evidence’ of a causal link in due course we shall of course publish it on this blog. Don’t hold your breath.

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