Crack in the glass ceiling as more women reach boards

A jump in the number of women in the boardrooms of Britain's biggest companies was hailed yesterday by the Business Secretary, Vince Cable.

Data from Cranfield School of Management shows that the proportion of female directors of FTSE 100 companies has risen to 17.4 per cent, up from 12.5 per cent in February 2011. That was when Lord Davies of Abersoch published a report on the subject and set a target of at least 25 per cent female board members at FTSE 100 companies by 2015.

At a seminar at the London Stock Exchange run by the 30 Percent Club, which has been working to get more women directors, Mr Cable said: "The great majority of business leaders I meet with now recognise the economic case for gender balance and are actively working with us to increase the number of women on their boards and executive committees. But we must also challenge the paternalistic culture and silent assumptions about women's priorities that are ultimately keeping the glass ceiling in place."

Recent appointments include Elaine Whelan at Lancashire Group, Annemarie Durbin at WH Smith, Birgit Norgaard at IMI and Anne Minto at Tate & Lyle. Among FTSE 250 companies the proportion of women on boards is up from 7.8 per cent to 12 per cent.

But below the underlying good news there are still gaps in the boardroom. Eight FTSE 100 companies still have no female directors, and in the last three months the number of FTSE 100 female chief executives has halved, with Dame Marjorie Scardino standing down from Pearson and Cynthia Carroll from Anglo American. Also, in the 12 months to September, none of the 22 executive director appointments made by FTSE 100 companies went to a woman.

Helena Morrissey, founder of the 30 Percent Club, said: "There's a lot that remains to be done, but a paradigm shift is well under way."