From recent events, you might think my timing is awry.  But we need more women in business.

Because more women means fewer Rebekah Brooks.

This week, the European Parliament voted in support of quotas for women in business and if voluntary measures do not work, for EU legislation to be used.

Currently, women make up 10% of directors and only 3% of CEOs at the largest listed EU companies.  Progress is painfully slow, only half a percent per year.  At this rate, the European Parliament predicted that it would take another fifty years for women to have at least 40% of seats in the biggest boardrooms.

Scotland is no better.  A recent survey for the Herald found that there are only 29 female directors in the 30 largest listed companies in Scotland.  Ten have no women directors at all, including major companies like A G Barr (Irn Bru manufacturers), Robert Wiseman dairies, Aggreko, Scottish Investment Trust and the Wood Group.

It is truly depressing stuff, but not nearly as depressing as the views of women who have made it to the top.   Progress has been made in recent years, you need to look at other sectors too, there are more women there in equivalent positions, merit must always come first, and the hoariest chestnut of them all.  That old faithful – women are too busy juggling careers, children and partners (!) to find time for extras like non-executive positions.

But let’s not rehearse the old arguments – and invite the usual comments – of equality and opportunity.  Except briefly to allow the EU Vice President  Rodi Kratsa-Tsagaropoulou, (Christian Democrat MEP from Greece) whose resolution on the report on Women and Business Leadership was adopted by the European Parliament, to comment:

“Europe cannot afford to leave talent untapped! Empowering the role of women on management boards of companies is not only about ethics and equality, it is also essential for economic growth and a competitive internal market. With the adoption of the report on Women and Business Leadership, the European Parliament has sent a strong message to governments, social partners and enterprises in Europe”.

The resolution urges the European Commission to “propose legislation including quotas by 2012 for increasing female representation in corporate management bodies of enterprises to 30% by 2015 and to 40% by 2020”, if voluntary measures do not manage to increase the proportion of women.  The report and debate pointed to the success of similar quota legislation in Norway and welcomed the threshholds already set in France, the Netherlands and Spain.

In the UK too, there have been moves to increase women’s representation in leadership roles voluntarily, through the establishment of the 30% club and in Scotland, the current and soon-to-be chairs of CBI Scotland are women.  Indeed,  the new CBI chief, Nosheena Mobarik OBE, has already called for women to be given more senior roles in Scottish boardrooms.

It’s all good but it’s not enough.  So let’s encourage business to meet these potential quotas voluntarily by focusing on the only arguments that matter to them, the ones that affect the bottom line.

Studies have shown that companies with a higher percentage of women tend to perform better commercially and financially.  Women have just as many skills and as much experience to offer as men.  Indeed, their different experiences and perspectives could help create a much needed cultural shift in the way in which business is approached and conducted.  And there is evidence – cited by David Watt, Director of the Institute of Directors in Scotland – that shows that companies with a diverse and gender balanced boardroom make better progress and have better returns than all-male boards.

So more women directors and in senior leadership positions, more moolah.  For us all.  And if that doesn’t appeal, then I don’t know what might.

Oh this.  More women, fewer Rebekah Brooks.  Because we’ll get more women of better quality, whose morals and ethics are more sound, and with a shift in culture, there will simply be no room for the likes of Brooks who got to the top by playing men at their own game.