One by one the bastions of male domination are coming under attack. Not a lot have fallen yet, but huge cracks are appearing in their fabric. Who could be confident that, soon the massed ranks of the Monstrous Regiment will not be storming triumphantly over the rubble?
A few weeks ago Elspeth Howe (one of the ablest commanders in the campaign) was directing the guns at companies which forget about women when making boardroom appointments. Even those which have women on their main boards become vulnerable to enfilading fire. In a report entitled Women on the Board Lady Howe and co-author Susan McRae, of the Policy Studies Institute which also published the document, pointed out that "many of the first women non-executive directors tended ... to have public affairs experience combined with a certain personal exposure that is an inevitable consequence of political or family prominence ... To an extent, these women come within the old boy network and are perceived as relatively 'safe'." The authors argued that there were many able, though less visible women eligible for boards. Ten days later the bombardment spread along the entire front. The Opportunity 2000 initiative, conceived, inspired, chaired and launched by Lady Howe, aims to enlarge opportunities for women "at all levels, especially in management". Only a few of the 60-odd employers in at the start of the scheme have female main board directors. And most of those directors belong to the "relatively safe" category but they have proved themselves in the fray.
Kingfisher, United Biscuits and Legal and General (where Lady Howe is a non-executive director) lined up on the winning side. So did Marks and Spencer, NatWest (Baroness Young), and Tate and Lyle and TSB (Lady Prior). Howe and McRae noted that, once appointed to one board, the old boys/girls were likely to be invited to join others. As British Gas (Baroness Platt), Boots (Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes), and Sainsbury (Lady Eccles) signed up, too, more recruits, not all titled perhaps, may be forthcoming.