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New Female Lord Mayor of London Makes ‘Business Case’ for Women

The new Lord Mayor of London, Fiona Woolf, the second woman to hold the honorary post in 800 years, warned the U.K. capital’s financial district it will lose out if more talented women don’t reach the tops of companies.

In a speech to the Mansion House banquet of business people tonight, Woolf argued it makes “good business sense” to question whether there’s enough diversity in the City, as the financial district is known. She said just 6 percent of women hold executive-committee and board positions and businesses risk being left behind “if talent does not get to the top.”

“It makes good business sense to ask the City: Is our talent pool wide enough and deep enough?” Woolf told 700 businessmen and women in an audience that also included Prime Minister David Cameron and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. “There has always been a moral case for diversity and inclusion, but there is also a business case -- and now it is a business imperative.”

Women account for 19 percent of directors of the 100 largest U.K. companies, up from 17.3 percent in April, a survey by Cranfield University School of Management found Nov. 7. In the past six months, 27 percent of appointments to the boards of companies in the FTSE 100 index have gone to women and 30 percent of those in the FTSE 250, according to the report, which has charted women’s progress in boardrooms since 1999.

A government-commissioned report in 2011 set a target of 25 percent women on boards by 2015 after the panel that compiled it, led by Mervyn Davies, ex-chairman of Standard Chartered Plc, ruled out setting quotas for companies.

As the Lord Mayor, Woolf is head of the City of London authority, which covers the financial district. The position, which is held for one year, is unpaid and apolitical. She represents City businesses and helps advise the government on financial services.

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