Women 1st is seeking views on the controversial issue of whether or not the Government should introduce quotas for women on company boards.
Despite a 2011 report from Lord Davies, which recommended that all FTSE 100 companies should have 25% women on their boards by 2015, recent figures show that female representation still stands at only 17%. In the hospitality and tourism industry, where the workforce is almost 60% women, only about 6% are employed in board-level roles.
The subject was discussed at a Women 1st networking event this week, when Lynne Franks, Women 1st patron, and Debbie White, chief executive of Sodexo UK and Ireland, told the 50-strong audience that quotas would be a positive move for the UK.
Franks said she was not originally convinced by the quota argument, but her view had changed because there were still not enough women in leadership roles.
"I understand that isn't everyone's view or, in fact, the view of Women 1st, which is not about positive discrimination or quotas," she said.
"Our initiative focuses on the clear business case for having women in senior roles, enlightening businesses about the benefits of mixed-gender leadership and providing support for organisations that want to achieve a better balance of men and women at the top."
White stressed that while Sodexo had exceeded its own 25% targets for women in leadership roles in the UK, with 31% of its senior team made up of females, she personally felt that more needed to be done across UK business as a whole.
"Six years ago, I did not agree with quotas," she explained. "I thought that, in the rush to make the numbers, women who were not the best qualified might get appointed. But, if you look at the statistics, more than 60% of our graduates are women. In my era, more than 40% of graduates were women. There are enough very good women out there to do really good jobs, so not having enough women is not the issue.
"Systemic issues, such as the organisational culture, practices and processes that identify and develop talent, the lack of adequate role models and, perhaps most importantly, our own unconscious biases have got to change if we are to make progress.
"If we had to vote on whether we should have a quota, I would vote for it. I know it's controversial and it is not a view widely shared, but at this point, progress has not been good enough and quotas would be a way of ensuring everyone takes responsibility."
A straw poll at the event showed that opinion was split on the matter.
Women 1st has now set up a poll on its LinkedIn group, which allows people to share their views on whether introducing quotas would be a good move. To cast your vote, visit http://bit.ly/w1quotas.
Set up in 2009, Women 1st is the thought leadership, training and mentoring programme that aims to increase the number of women in senior roles in hospitality, passenger transport, travel and tourism.