New CBI chief says business dinners are 'not inclusive for women'


The first ever female head of the CBI has raised questions over why so many business dinners are held, saying they are "not very inclusive" for women.

Carolyn Fairbairn, who has held a number of top business posts in her career, said she had rarely attended an evening business dinner, or stayed to the end, because she was bringing up her three children.

Large hotels in areas such as central London host black tie business events on many evenings in the week, usually attended mainly by men.

Mrs Fairbairn said that alongside sporting events, they were regarded as places where business people could network.

She added: "I would rather have an early evening discussion panel, hold a proper debate, and then people can go home by 7.30pm."

In one of her first interviews since becoming CBI director general, she told the Press Association it would be "terrific" if her appointment made a difference to how women looked at business careers.

"There has been good progress on reaching the 25% target of women on boards, but there is a long way to go, especially among senior management," she said.

Mrs Fairbairn said she felt optimistic about the UK economy, as long as issues such as productivity, skills and infrastructure were tackled.

She added:"We have come out of the recession really well, with stable inflation and falling unemployment and we have an opportunity to build on that."

She pointed to the UK's poor productivity record compared to the United States and Germany, as well as the growing shortage of skilled workers, especially for jobs in computer science and specialist engineering.

One of Mrs Fairbairn's first visits a few days into her new job was to Newcastle to underline the importance she places on growing economies outside London.

She said: "We should be aiming to have 20-30 cities in a global list of the top cities in the world."

On productivity, Mrs Fairbairn said sectors could learn from the motor industry, which had strong leadership, and an engaged workforce encouraged to put forward ideas.

"It is almost a Japanese model of continuous improvement," she said.

Mrs Fairbairn bemoaned the state of the UK's infrastructure and the cost to business of traffic jams, as well as the lack of an early decision on building a new airport runway in the South East.

"We are just urging the Government to make a decision," she said.

She echoed concerns voiced by her predecessor John Cridland about the state of careers advice in schools and believes children would benefit from increased contact with local businesses.

On the EU, the new director general sticks to the view that most CBI members are in favour of remaining in a reformed Europe, and are waiting for details from the current discussions going ahead with the Prime Minister.