Firms fail on first deadline on women in boardroom

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The Independent Online

Leading companies are still failing to tackle gender diversity at board level, experts warn, despite a government deadline tomorrow demanding they publish proposals to boost the number of female board members.

In February, Lord Davies called on FTSE 350 companies to achieve "urgent change" and announce aspirational goals within the next six months. The deadline falls on Thursday, but while figures from FTSE 100 firms point to positive action, outside the main blue-chip index the response appears less favourable. Anecdotal evidence suggests there still remains resistance to falling into line with Davies' call for firms to aim for a minimum of 25 per cent female representation on boards by 2015.

Since the report was published on 24 February, 18 women have been appointed to the boards of FTSE 100 firms, representing 31 per cent of the total over the period. That's twice the proportion seen in any previous year. Since last October, the number of all-male FTSE 100 boards has fallen by a third, from 21 to 14.

But such figures don't impress Professor Susan Vinnicombe, director of the International Centre for Women Leaders at Cranfield University School of Management, who publishes an annual Female FTSE Board Report.Yesterday she said: "From what we've seen so far, a number of companies have simply commented that they already achieve the 25 per cent target while others say they are aiming towards it. But we haven't seen any great detail on what their initiatives are going to be to tackle gender diversity."

Elaine Aarons, head of the employment group at law firm Withers, said that despite the apparent progress, women are still being blocked from boards. "I deal with many highly senior women who don't get through to that last stage of business of joining the board," she said. "It's partly systemic. Advancement is not related directly to merit, with politics usually playing a big part."

The Department for Business Innovation and Skills said it will analyse companies' responses in September.

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