More women than ever on top company board in the UK
THE number of women directors on top company boards has increased to a record 15pc but is still well down on a target of 25pc set by a British government-commissioned review, new research has revealed.
An annual study of boardroom gender by the Cranfield School of Management said there had been a "significant move in the right direction" since publication of a report by Lord Davies a year ago.
The former Labour minister and ex-chairman of Standard Charter recommended that companies in the FTSE 100 should have 25pc female board membership by 2015.
The figure was just 6.9pc in 1999 and stayed at 12pc in recent years but now stands at 15.6pc, said Cranfield - adding that it could rise to 26.7pc by 2015 and 36.9pc by 2020, exceeding the Davies target.
There are now 141 women holding 163 board seats in FTSE 100 firms, while the number of companies with no women board members has fallen to 11.
Out of 190 new board appointments in the past year, 47 were to women, the research revealed.
Professor Susan Vinnicombe, co-author of the report, said: "The past 12 months have seen a significant amount of global activity around diversifying boards. After a decade of incremental increases in the UK, we are pleased to be reporting improvements that are more substantive.
"If the momentum we have seen since the Lord Davies' review continues we could achieve 30pc women on boards in less than four years, which would be a terrific achievement.
"We urge chairmen, chief executives, executive search firms, investors, journalists and women to stay focused and use this momentum to change the status quo permanently."
Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities Theresa May said: "I'm delighted by this unprecedented progress.
"While there's still much to be done, today we should celebrate just how far we have come. It is particularly encouraging that this progress has been led by businesses.
"Government has put in place the framework, but it's companies themselves who are seeing that they simply cannot afford to ignore the skills and talent of half the population."
Business Secretary Vince Cable said: "Increasing female board representation is a win-win proposition for business.
"Well-balanced boards with broader experience introduce fresh perspectives and new ideas, which help improve performance and boost productivity.
"This report provides real evidence that business is taking the issue of board diversity seriously and is working to bring about the necessary changes.
"It demonstrates why we don't think quotas are necessary at the moment as the UK is making the voluntary approach work."
Lord Davies said: "Over the last year some excellent progress has been made. We've seen a significant increase in the percentage of female board appointments and the number of all-male boards has halved.
"I believe we're on a steady journey towards our 25pc target, but the reality is that a lot more still needs to be done.
"We've got to keep up the pressure on business - particularly on FTSE 250 companies, and at the same time chief executives must try and improve the gender balance of their executive committees, because this isn't just about equality, it's about performance.
"The simple fact is that the more diverse your team, the better it performs."
Drinks giant Diageo had the biggest percentage of female directors at 44pc, said the Cranfield report, adding that the number of women at senior executive level varied "dramatically.
Professor Vinnicombe added: "From our research it is clear that many of the FTSE companies are successful at attracting women at entry level, and developing them and retaining them after maternity leave, but are still spectacularly unsuccessful at promoting them to executive level."
Charles Elvin, chief executive of the Institute of Leadership & Management said: "While the continued focus and debate on the number of women in senior positions is a step forward, there needs to be a similar focus at every level of management to address the issue at the heart of the problem - the lack of an effective pipeline for female talent."