Oct 29, 2012
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Anglo's outgoing CEO warns against "token women"

Oct 29, 2012

LONDON - Mining giant Anglo American's (AAL.L) outgoing chief executive Cynthia Carroll, only the third woman to take the helm of a FTSE 100 company, warned on Friday that calls for quotas to diversify Europe's boardrooms could reduce women to a token presence.

Cynthia Carroll (photo: AngloAmerican)

Carroll, 55, quit after more than five years at the top of Anglo, one of the world's largest mining groups, under increased pressure from shareholders over underperforming shares and unhappiness in some quarters over the company's continued dependence on troubled South Africa.

Her departure on Friday comes less than a month after Marjorie Scardino, the first woman to lead a FTSE 100 company, stepped down at publishing group Pearson (PSON.L).

With Carroll's exit sometime in the new year, that will leave only two female chief executives among Britain's blue chip companies - as the country resists a push from the European Union for quotas to boost women in business.

"I think there is a need to have more women running companies, but you can't appoint women just to appoint women, to satisfy a particular condition," Carroll told reporters.

"The last thing you want is token women."

Carroll, a straight-talking American who has four teenage children, crashed through glass ceilings when she became CEO of Anglo, then a sprawling conglomerate, in 2007.

She was the first non-South African, the first woman and the first outsider to run the mining giant.

Her record at Anglo has been mixed, industry analysts and investors say, but she did become a figurehead for women in the mining industry and in broader business.

Without her and assuming Carroll will be replaced by a man - there are no female names currently in the ring to replace her - the remaining female bosses in the FTSE are Angela Ahrendts, chief executive of fashion house Burberry (BRBY.L), and Alison Cooper at cigarette-maker Imperial Tobacco (IMT.L).

This is likely to be a spur to European Union's efforts to boost women on boards. On Thursday, the European Parliament vetoed Yves Mersch's nomination to the board of the European Central Bank because of his gender - raising the stakes in a showdown with EU governments over the issue of women's prominence in business.

Earlier this week, the European Commission postponed a vote on a divisive plan to force companies to allot 40 percent of their board seats to women by 2020, as lawyers questioned its legality under EU rules.

Drafts of the plan, under which non-compliant companies would face sanctions, were deeply unpopular with many EU countries, especially Britain, which favours more voluntary measures to boost the presence of women in business.

Carroll echoed this view, stressing the need for companies to develop a "pipeline" of young women with potential.

"What you want, more than anything, is to develop women within the organisation who will, when they get to the top, be fully capable of delivering and doing their jobs effectively," she told reporters after announcing her resignation.

In January 2012, women accounted for 3.2 percent of CEOs among the EU's top 600 listed companies, according to data from the European Commission. This compared to 1.6 percent in 2003.

They were more present on boards, at 13.7 percent, up from 8.5 percent nine years ago, though often in non-executive roles.

Over the past two years, the proportion of women on boards in the UK rose by just 2 percentage points to 16 percent.

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