There is “no excuse” for excluding women from company boards and the time for talking about this is “over”, UK hospitality leaders heard this week.

Holly Addison, head of hospitality and consumer digital at recruitment firm Odgers Berndtson, told the UKHospitality conference in London: “There is no excuse for all-male boards.”

She said: “More women than ever are on the boards of UK companies – 29% of FTSE100 board positions are now held by women – but there is still a long way to go.

“It would need 40% of all available board appointments to go to women in the next two years to hit the target of 33% of women in board positions at FTSE350 companies.”

Addison added: “Far too many smaller businesses don’t have any women on boards.”

She told the conference: “We need the support and commitment of more enlightened industry leaders.”

Addison quoted a recent survey which suggested two-thirds (63%) of hospitality sector leaders “agree there is a problem around diversity, but two thirds don’t think it’s a problem in their own business. One in three don’t thing it is a problem in general or in their own business.”

She said more than half (55%) have a diversity policy and “82% thought there should be more women on leadership teams, but schemes to encourage [the appointment of women] are not common – only 28% have one a place”.

Addison insisted: “The time for talking about this is over.”

Jon Terry, global financial services people leader at business services firm PwC, told the conference: “This is a reputational issue. Your ability to understand your customer must start with your leadership team looking like your customers.”

He added: “People don’t want to work in an industry that does not look like them.

“Over 75% of leaders in the [hospitality] sector are men. [But] mixed leadership teams are significantly more innovative.”

Angela Malik, an industry consultant and government advisor, suggested: “Until we have culturally diverse leadership teams, do we really understand our customers?”