White men have become an “endangered species” in recruitment for top business roles Tesco’s chairman John Allan has said.
Addressing the audience at Retail Week Live conference, Allan women and ethnic minorities were in a better position now than they have been in the past when it came to non-executive roles, as companies take on more diverse candidates.
He said: “If you are female and from an ethnic background – and preferably both – then you are in an extremely propitious period.
“For a thousand years, men have got most of these jobs, the pendulum has swung very significantly the other way now and will do for the foreseeable future, I think. If you are a white male, tough. You are an endangered species and you are going to have to work twice as hard.”
Tesco’s executive board comprises three women and nine men, including Allan. All board members are white, and there are no full-time female executives. Concerns remain that both women and ethnic minorities are still under-represented in boardrooms.
Among FTSE 100 companies, women make up 26 per cent of directors, and only ten per cent of executives. Meanwhile, 2016 statistics show that only eight per cent of those directors were not white.
Labour MP Yvette Cooper commented on twitter. She said: “Says the man who chairs a board of eleven, eight of whom are white men…..!!! No words.”
Says the man who chairs a board of eleven, eight of whom are white men…..!!! No words. https://t.co/ZHUtl1aCsM— Yvette Cooper (@YvetteCooperMP) March 10, 2017
Speaking to the Guardian newspaper, Allan said: “The context was [that] I was talking to a bunch of aspiring non-executive directors, many of whom were women, and I wanted to give them some encouragement and, therefore, I used that rather colourful turn of speech.
“It was intended to be humorous, a bit hyperbolic. Clearly, white men are not literally an endangered species but I was actually wanting the make the reverse point, which is that it is a great time for women and people of ethnic minorities who want to get on in business.”
Gender equality campaigner Helena Morrisy said media reports put “an unfair spin” on Allan’s statement.
The headline & construction of the story puts an unfair spin on what he’s trying to say – the job is obv not done but we’re making progress https://t.co/gGPN3laZNP— Helena Morrissey (@MorrisseyHelena) March 10, 2017
In a statement issued by Tesco Allan said: “I would like to clarify the remarks I made earlier this week at a Retail Week Live panel event where I was speaking to aspiring non-executive directors, many of them women.
“The point I was seeking to make was that successful Boards must be active in bringing together a diverse and representative set of people.
“There is still much more to be done but now is a good time for women to put themselves forward for NED roles.
“In all the organisations I have been involved in I have been a committed advocate of greater diversity and very much regret if my remarks have given the opposite impression.”
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