The chief of business lobby group the CBI has criticised business dinners for not being “very inclusive” for women.
Carolyn Fairbairn said she had rarely stayed to the end of such corporate functions because she was bringing up her three children.
She said she had “never been a fan” of events such as black-tie dinners and sporting events, despite them being popular places to do business, and said this was the case for “a lot of women”.
The first female chief of the CBI said many women would prefer to go home to their families in the evening. “Maybe the business dinner is a vestige of old business life.”
Speaking to The Independent, she said businesses should opt for more early evening events for flexibility and to encourage a more welcome environment for female executives.
“Why not have more early evening events like a panel discussion, a nice glass of wine or two and then everyone off home by 7.30?”
She hopes to get rid of all but the main CBI dinner events, adding that many men “would just like to go home as well”.
“I have noticed in my career that quite a lot of things are set up around business life that happen outside work that don’t include women that easily. One example that is quite obvious is the business dinner,” she said.
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It wasn’t a surprise, that business dinners “are 95 per cent men”, she pointed out wryly. There was a similar theme when it came to corporate entertainment. “I went to the Rugby World Cup final and I looked around and I could see the men thinking, ‘How did she get in here?’”
“A lot of the friendship building, the networks, the support that frankly becomes really important when you start getting to the top are being formed in ways that exclude women.”
Fairbairn opposes quotas for women in boardroom, but said it is crucial for firms to recruit more female non-executive directors and senior managers. “We still have a position where less than ten per cent of executives are women. We really have to get more women into really senior management roles, running companies.”
Women executives often run into trouble as they rise to senior positions in their forties. “A lot of women do brilliantly in their twenties and thirties and my observation is when they get into their forties and right up towards the top of their professions – and this includes some of my close friends – they have actually looked at it and they have thought, ‘I don’t really want to do this’” she said.
“It becomes quite lonely at the top. It becomes more isolated and your networks and connections and friendships in business life really start to matter.”
Among other discussion points, Fairbairn also voiced support of the government’s austerity agenda. “There are a number of things that we are really aligned with them on. The fiscal consolidation – balancing the books – is something our members are completely behind. Some might feel the job is nearly done: we don’t.”
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