White men have become an “endangered species” at the top of British business, according to Tesco chairman John Allan.
Mr Allan, who earns £650,000 a year, is one of nine men who sit on Tesco’s executive board, alongside three women. All board members are white. Mr Allan took over the role from Sir Richard Broadbent, a white man, in 2015.
There are no full-time female executives on Tesco’s board.
Speaking to a business conference, Mr Allan said: “For a thousand years men have got most of these jobs. The pendulum has swung very significantly the other way and will do for the foreseeable future”.
“If you are a white male, tough. You are an endangered species and you are going to have to work twice as hard.”
“If you are female and from an ethnic background and preferably both, then you are in an extremely propitious period,” he added.
Last year, Nicky Morgan, the women and equalities minister, expressed concern that efforts to appoint more women to top business jobs had stalled.
Less than a quarter of FTSE 100 boardroom recruits in the six months to March 2016 were women, the lowest level since 2011, according to the Female FTSE Board Report.
“There are still more people called John chairing FTSE 100 boards than there are women,” said Morgan.
In 2016, Mr Allan was one of 14 men named John who are CEOs or chairmen of FTSE100 companies. By contrast, there were just seven women chairing FTSE companies – half as many.
According to last year's reports, just 8 per cent of those directors were not white. By contrast, people from minority ethnic backgrounds made up 14 per cent of the UK’s workforce at large.
Mr Allan later said his comments had been taken out of context.
“It was intended to be humorous, a bit hyperbolic.”
“The context was that I was talking to a bunch of aspiring non-executive directors, many of whom were women, and I wanted to give them some encouragement and, therefore, I used that rather colourful turn of speech,” he said.
“And the audience, I think, was quite amused and quite enjoyed it.”
Mr Allan has been contacted for comment.