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Claims that female employees are worth less to finance companies than male employees are "laughable", expert says

It is "laughable" to suggest that female employees are "somehow intrinsically worth less to financial institutions as a result of having families", an employment law expert has said.

Kirsty Ayre of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, was commenting in response to comments made by UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage at an event in the City of London. Farage, a former broker, said that there was "no discrimination" against women in the industry; but rather that female employees tended to make "different choices" from their male colleagues for "biological reasons".

"If a woman has a client base and has a child and takes two or three years off work, she is worth far less to the employer when she comes back than when she goes away because her client base cannot be stuck rigidly to her," Farage said.

"I don't believe that in the big banks and brokerage houses and Lloyds of London and everywhere else in the City, there is any discrimination against women at all. I think that young, able women who are prepared to sacrifice the family life and stick with their careers do as well, if not better, than men," he said.

Ayre said that the comments reflected "an incredibly narrow view of worth".

"The days when you evaluate someone's contribution based on their book of contacts are long gone and employers risk losing out on top talent if that is their attitude," she said.

"We know from FCA data that literally hundreds of women are put forward for 'Significant Influence' positions every year, suggesting that the institutions themselves disagree with this assertion. Further, were you to look at those females in senior positions in the City, many of them will have families - as will the men," she said.

Earlier this month Professional Boards Forum BoardWatch, which tracks the appointment of women to the boards of the UK's leading publically-listed companies, reported that the number of female directors in the FTSE 100 had exceeded 20% for the first time. Women currently hold 20.4% of all FTSE 100 directorships, but only 7.2% of executive director roles, according to the index. Two companies in the FTSE 100 still have all-male boards, according to the research; down from 21 at the time of Lord Davies' report on women on boards in 2011.

Davies' report set a target of 25% female representation on the boards of FTSE 100 companies by 2015.

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