Business language

Call to cancel ‘chairman’ to boost gender balance

Sarah Howard
Sarah Howard: ‘consign the word to history’

A number of business groups have called on the the UK government to stop using the word “chairman” in the latest quest for gender neutrality.  

Make UK, The Institute of Directors, the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce and all 53 of the accredited chambers have signed an open letter asking for the change. 

They say the word “chairman” is “outdated” and gives men an elevated status that can translate into greater opportunities and salaries.

The business leaders call for the word to be changed to the neutral term “chair” and argue that it could be incorporated in forthcoming corporate governance legislation. 

All of the signatories to the letter are taking steps to amend their own articles to use the word “chair” and they are encouraging all other businesses to follow suit. 

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Sarah Howard, who chairs the British Chambers of Commerce, said:  “More needs to be done to help the young girls and women of today achieve their ambitions. Research from the FTSE Women Leaders Review 2022 reveals just 8% of FTSE 100 CEOs are women and only 13.7% of executive directorships. 

“Currently, Companies House still uses the word ‘chairman’ in its model articles of association and has done for many years, meaning it has been used by thousands of businesses across the country when they are set up. 

“While businesses can change it themselves, many are under the impression that it is a requirement of Companies House. Language matters. Just as ‘policeman’ and ‘fireman’ have been replaced with more inclusive terms, so too should ‘chairman’ be consigned to the history books.  

“Research from the World Bank suggests a direct link between the use of gendered language and differing employment rates between men and women. The default term should be changed to ‘Chair’. 

“It’s a small but very significant alteration that will help break down subconscious bias and send a clear message to future generations that they have an equal role to play in running businesses whatever their gender identity. 

“There is much more that all of us need to do to help address inequality in the business world, and this change would send a clear message on government intent.”    

Jonathan Geldart, director general of the Institute of Directors, said:  “Whilst significant strides forward have been made on improving gender balance in Board and leadership positions, we must continue to strive for greater representation by women.

“Clearly changing Companies House’s model articles is no silver bullet, but neither is it trivial. The importance of language should not be underestimated. By taking this small step, the Government can ensure that gender neutrality is instilled in new business ventures at their inception.”  

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