Clubby old boy network bars women from FTSE 100 boards, study shows

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Nearly half of Britain's top 100 companies have no women on their boards despite 50 per cent of the workforce being female. The FTSE Female Index shows only 5 per cent of the directors of the 100 biggest companies are women.

Nearly half of Britain's top 100 companies have no women on their boards despite 50 per cent of the workforce being female. The FTSE Female Index shows only 5 per cent of the directors of the 100 biggest companies are women.

There are only 10 female executive directors, or 1.8 per cent of the total, and of 695 non-executive directors, only 8 per cent, or 55, are women. Forty-nine per cent of the FTSE Top 100 have all-male boards. Fifty-four per cent of the FTSE 100 have no women non-executive directors and 91 per cent have no women executive directors.

The index, which will be updated every year, was compiled by Harriet Harman, the former social security secretary, with the backing of the Industrial Society and the Fawcett Society, an equality pressure group. At a seminar in London yesterday, Ms Harman discussed plans for a three-year target to eliminate all-male FTSE boards.

"British boardrooms are one of the last remaining 'no-go' areas for women," she said yesterday. "The task now is to expose the extent of the problem, to work for change and to monitor progress. The boards of British business should be a meritocracy not just 'chairman's chums'."

Among the companies whose boards are all-male are Associated British Foods, owner of British Sugar and the discount fashion retailer Primark, Carlton Communications, Bass and the newspaper group Daily Mail & General Trust. Those which do have women on the board include the international media group Pearson, which has two women on its nine-strong board including Marjorie Scardino, the only female chief executive in the FTSE 100.

Eight other companies also have two women as directors; SmithKline Beecham, Barclays Bank, Legal & General and BT. Since the list was drawn up, Marks & Spencer has parted company with its only female executive director, Clara Freeman. Forty-five other companies have one female director and the rest have none.

Mary-Ann Stephenson, director of the Fawcett Society, said she was disappointed but not surprised. "There are women in senior positions in companies but the boardrooms are dominated by men. Perhaps companies that don't have any women on the board aren't doing so well. Marks & Spencer could be said to be out of touch with its customer base.

"Companies are excluding the talents, skills and experiences of half their customers and it is in their best interests to appoint women to these positions. We have to get rid of this clubby atmosphere of the old boy network because it doesn't function properly." Denise Kingsmill, deputy chairman of the UK Competition Commission, said: "It is not unreasonable to expect all these companies could employ at least one woman director in the next three years.

"The headhunters need to produce a more diverse list of candidates and the shareholders need to exercise their influence in demanding more diversity at boardroom level."

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