Firms could be required to report on efforts they are making to increase the number of women in senior management jobs, the Government announced today.
The move follows a survey of more than 1,000 adults which showed that almost two out of three believed there were not enough female directors in big business.
The Government Equalities Office said that at the current rate of progress it will take 60 years for women to gain equal representation on the boards of the top 100 companies.
Ministers revealed they had asked the Financial Reporting Council to consider including a new principle in its code of conduct to require firms to report on what they were doing to increase the number of women in senior management positions.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: "We all recognise the value of strong role models for women in all walks of life - and there are many in politics, the arts, public services, sport and the third sector, but there are too few in Britain's boardrooms.
"When more than half of graduates are women, it is completely unacceptable that some of our top 100 public companies have not a single woman on their boards, and that none at all have a majority of women on their boards.
"A new principle in the governance code on diversity would build on the provisions in the Equality Bill, which allow employers to take positive action when recruiting to balance their workforce.
"But if we do not see a dramatic change in the composition of company boards in the future, we will need to consider taking more serious action to ensure companies recruit from the diverse pool of exceptional talent we have in the UK."
Harriet Harman, Minister for Women and Equalities, said: "Britain needs more women in the boardroom. This survey shows that the public want a quicker pace of change. Government is playing its part, but firms need to play their part too.
"Too many British boardrooms are still no-go areas for women. Women are important consumers and employees. We'll never get a proper meritocracy or truly family-friendly workplaces from male-dominated boards.
"Businesses that run on the basis of an old boy network and do not draw on the talents of all the population will not be the ones that flourish and prosper in the 21st century."
The Prime Minister will host a business breakfast in Downing Street today to mark International Women's Day.
Shadow work and pensions secretary Theresa May said: "Before Labour start lecturing businesses about equality, Harriet Harman should look a bit closer to home and examine the Government's woeful record at getting women into senior positions in the civil service.
"It seems under Labour it's one rule for them and one for everyone else.
"You have to question the motive of such an announcement this close to an election."Reuse content