Glencore chairman slammed for 'primitive' views on hiring women

The new Glencore chairman has come under fire for implying women would rather have children than be in the boardroom.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 20 Nov 2012
A characteristically controversial start to Simon Murray’s new role at Glencore; the outspoken chairman of the soon-to-float commodities trader has taken a very public battering after suggesting that women are under-represented in boardrooms because ‘they’ve got better things to do', e.g. bringing up their children - and that as a result, he's generally reluctant to hire young women. Much of the criticism is well-deserved; though we suspect a lot of (particularly) small business owners might secretly agree with him...

Business Secretary Vince Cable was the first to wade in, calling Murray’s views ‘unbelievably primitive’ and suggesting that it’s exactly why we need ‘affirmative action’ (ie. quotas) in boardrooms. Lord Davies, who wrote the Government’s report on the subject earlier this year, said the comments were ‘ill-judged an inappropriate’. In fact, such has been the backlash that Murray has been forced to issue a grovelling apology. 'I’m 100% committed to equal opportunities in the boardroom and across a company’s structure... businesses which fail to address the under-representation of women at all levels will be at a competitive disadvantage,’ he sackloth-and-ashed.

Murray isn’t exactly known for mincing his words: during the interview, he also described England as a ‘nation of football hooligans and Dome-builders’. But while his views on employing women may be unpalatable, they're not necessarily uncommon; small business owners in particular are often privately reluctant to take on young women of a certain age because of the huge disruption a maternity leave can cause. And statistically, you can kind of see Murray's point. Between the ages of 22 and 29, women earn an average of 2.1% more than their male counterparts; but by the age 40, men earn 27% more than women - suggesting that, during their 30s at least, women do indeed have ‘better things to do’.

Of course, the problem is that although some women are doing this by choice, some are doing it because they have no alternative. New legislation that allows parental leave to be shared out more equally should help on that score (although small firms argue that it just makes the problem bigger). But it's clear that this isn't just about the law; there needs to be a big cultural shift in terms of attitudes to childcare. And at least the reaction to Murray's views suggests that things are moving in the right direction.

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