Employers will be asked to voluntarily publish equality data about their workforce, under plans announced by Equalities Minister, Lynne Featherstone.

The proposal is aimed at organisations that employ 150 or more people and follows a similar commitment for the public sector announced earlier this year.

Speaking at the launch of the annual Female FTSE100 report, which shows that the number of women on the boards of Britain’s biggest companies has barely increased in the past three years, the Minister also announced that the Government will enact the Equality Act’s rules on positive action in relation to recruitment and promotion.

This aims to help employers make their organisations ‘more representative’ by giving them the option, when faced with two or more candidates of equal merit, to choose a candidate from a group that is under-represented in the workforce. For example, a primary school that has no male teachers could choose to appoint a male candidate who is of equal merit to a female candidate.

The Government has stressed that this does not mean allowing ‘quotas’ or giving someone a job just because they are a woman, disabled or from an ethnic minority – it said in a statement on the new proposals: “positive discrimination is not acceptable and remains illegal”.

Speaking at London’s Docklands, Equalities Minister, Lynne Featherstone, said:

“We want to move away from the arrogant notion that Government knows best to one where Government empowers individuals, businesses and communities to make change happen.

Different organisations face different challenges in promoting equality so if we are to get this right for everybody a much more flexible approach is needed.

“These plans are absolutely not about political correctness, or red tape, or quotas. They are about giving individual employers the tools they need to help make the workplace fairer.”