Women aren’t a good fit in boardrooms, most of them don’t want the hassle of a big job and they don’t understand the complex issues discussed in board meetings. That is according to executives at the UK’s biggest firms, who have offered poor excuses for why their boardrooms are dominated by men.

The business minister Andrew Griffiths, responding to a report released by the his department on Wednesday, described the comments as “pitiful and patronising” as he sought to highlight how far FTSE 350 companies have to go on diversity at the top level.

The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills report said members of a government-backed review of the issue heard senior executives say they “have one woman already on the board, so we are done – it is someone else’s turn”, that they “can’t just appoint a woman because [they] want to” and that “all the ‘good’ women have already been snapped up”.

Other examples included executives who said their boardroom colleagues “wouldn’t want to appoint a woman”, that they needed to “build the pipeline from the bottom – there just aren’t enough senior women in this sector” and claimed there were no vacancies, otherwise “I would think about appointing a woman”.

One executive, according to the report, asked the review panel why they should care when their shareholders “just aren’t interested in the make-up of the board”; another said there “aren’t that many women with the right credentials and depth of experience to sit on the board – the issues covered are extremely complex”.

Comments also included one in which an executive claimed “most women don’t want the hassle or pressure of sitting on a board” and another in which the review was told: “I don’t think women fit comfortably into the board environment”.

Amanda Mackenzie, the chief executive of Business in the Community, an organisation that champions corporate social responsibility, said: “As you read this list of excuses, you might think it’s 1918, not 2018. It reads like a script from a comedy parody but it’s true. Surely we can now tackle this once and for all. Maybe those that give credence to these excuses are the ones that are not up to sitting on boards and should move over: we are in the 21st century after all.”

The independent Hampton-Alexander review is being led by Sir Philip Hampton, one of Britain’s most highly regarded bosses, who has challenged all FTSE 350 companies to make sure at least a third of their board members and leadership are women by 2020.

He said excuses such as those highlighted in the government report were heard less now than a few years ago. “However, leaders expressing warm words of support but actually doing very little to appoint women into top jobs – or quietly blocking progress – are really not much better.”

The Department for Business said there has been some more tangible progress in recent years, with the number of women on boards having “more than doubled in the FTSE 350 since 2011”, according to the most recent statistics – released in November last year. “In that time, the number of all-male FTSE 350 company boards also fell from 152 to 10,” it said.

This article was written by Kevin Rawlinson, for The Guardian on Thursday 31st May 2018 00.16 Europe/London

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