Nearly half of all first-time directors appointed at Britain’s biggest companies last year were women, offering renewed hope that the Government target of a 25 per cent female make-up of FTSE 100 boards by 2015 will be met.
Analysis by headhunters Korn/Ferry Whitehead Mann suggested that 47 per cent of first-time appointments to FTSE 350 boards in 2012 were female, compared with just 11 per cent in 2007.
The research goes some way towards allaying fears that efforts to recruit more women into male-dominated boardrooms are running out of steam.
Political leaders, led by Lord Davies, are aiming to get 25 per cent of FTSE 100 board places allocated to women by 2015. However, recent figures have shown a slowdown in senior appointments, with just 26 per cent of executive roles going to women in the first half of the year.
Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, has threatened to look again at boardroom quotas if the 25 per cent target is not met by 2015.
Critics are worried that the loss of high-profile leaders such as Dame Marjorie Scardino, who retired as chief executive of the educational publisher Pearson at the turn of the year, means fewer women in the most powerful jobs and not enough non-executives coming up through the ranks.
Current top female CEOs include easyjet’s Carolyn McCall, Alison Cooper at Imperial Tobacco and Angela Ahrendts at Burberry. Women make up 17.4 per cent of FTSE 100 boards.
In another positive sign for supporters of greater diversity in the boardroom, some 54 per cent of those joining boards last year had experience of living or working abroad, compared with 43 per cent in 2007.
According to research released earlier this year, there are fewer Oxbridge graduates heading FTSE 100 companies, at 15 in 2013 from 21 in 2012.