Tesco boss: White men 'an endangered species' meant to be a joke

This article is more than 12 months old

LONDON: The chairman of Britain's biggest retailer Tesco has said he was joking after telling an audience of aspiring non-executive directors that white men were "an endangered species" in UK boardrooms.

Mr John Allan, who became Tesco chairman in 2015, told the Retail Week Live conference earlier this week that women and people from an ethnic background were in an "extremely propitious period" when it came to getting top jobs in business.

"For a thousand years, men have got most of these jobs, the pendulum has swung very significantly the other way now and will do for the foreseeable future, I think," British newspapers quoted Mr Allan as saying.

"If you are a white male, tough. You are an endangered species and you are going to have to work twice as hard."

Mr Allan later told the Guardian his comments, made the day after International Women's Day, were not meant to be taken at face value and that they had amused his mainly female audience.

He said: "It was intended to be humorous, a bit hyperbolic. Clearly, white men are not literally an endangered species, but I was actually wanting to make the reverse point, which is that it is a great time for women and people of ethnic minorities who want to get on in business."

In a statement on Saturday, Mr Allan said he is a strong advocate of greater diversity and regretted if his remarks had given the opposite impression.

The proportion of female directors among FTSE 100 companies is 26 per cent, according to the Guardian, while only 10 per cent of executives at those same firms are women.

Mr Allan had told the conference that Tesco had appointed an almost entirely new board in the last 18 months and that three of the six new non-executive directors were women.

However, Tesco's board still has only three women and all its members are white.