Exclusive Survey:

Revealed: The gender gap in British business

An exclusive survey of Britain’s top 100 companies finds that, of 329 executive directors, only 20 are women

The lack of women at the top of Britain's biggest companies is laid bare today as research by The Independent reveals the full extent of the gender imbalance in UK boardrooms.

When the former trade minister Lord (Mervyn) Davies was appointed to look into the problem last week, the coalition Government admitted that only 12 per cent (139) of the directors of FTSE 100 companies are female. But the situation is far worse.

Because several of them hold multiple positions, in fact there are only 120 individual women on boards, out of the total pool of 1,100 directors. And just 20 of them – 6 per cent – are the executive directors who run the company on a daily basis, compared with the 309 who are male.

Only five FTSE 100 companies have female chief executives: the asset managers Alliance Trust, publishers Pearson, miners Anglo American, fashion house Burberry and Imperial Tobacco. Burberry and Alliance Trust are also the most balanced overall, each with three women on their eight-strong boards.

But more than a fifth of the FTSE 100 companies have no female representation at board level whatsoever. In only three companies do women make up more than a third of directors. Not one has a gender split on the board of 50:50.

Pressure groups renewed calls for real action to address the stark inequality yesterday. "The tiny number of women at the top of business is totally unacceptable," said Nan Sloane, director of the Centre for Women and Democracy pressure group. "The general public has the feeling that the equality battle has somehow been won, but it is nowhere near won. While there's a lot of talk about improving the number of women in business, there is virtually no action at all."

There is little expectation that the latest review from Lord Davies, due to be presented to David Cameron in December, will prove any more effective. Despite decades of discussion, progress is glacial. In the 10 years since Cranfield University School of Management produced its first "Female FTSE" report, the number of female directorships has risen only 5 per cent.

And ingrained attitudes to the role of women remain intact. One headhunter contacted by The Independent yesterday said that female representation is higher in sectors where women "really matter", such as retail, while under-representation in "masculine" industries like engineering or defence is of much less concern.

Baroness Hogg, chairwoman of the Financial Reporting Council, said: "There is a huge amount of female executive talent in British industry, the problem is that it is not visible." The FRC recently added clauses to its corporate governance code underlining the importance of diversity, particularly in gender, for the first time. "The next two years are pretty important because it will be a test of intent," Baroness Hogg said.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission estimates that it could take three-quarters of a century before directorships are balanced equally between the genders. "Workplaces need to change if companies are to attract and retain the best employees," a spokeswoman said. "Long hours, a lack of flexible working options and direct discrimination remain some of the biggest barriers to addressing gender inequality in the workplace."

Elsewhere in Europe, the picture is very different. The leader is Norway, where at least 40 per cent of company directors are now women, thanks to laws introduced in 2006. The strategy is spreading fast. Spain has a 40 per cent quota, although it is not yet legally mandated. Italy, France, Finland, Germany and Sweden have all either set similar recommended levels, or have legislation going through parliament. And Europe's Fundamental Rights Commissioner, Viviane Reding, last month warned that unless more European boardroom seats are filled by women by 2011, she will impose a legal quota.

Quotas draw little support in Britain, and are unlikely to be included in Lord Davies's conclusions later this year. Detractors claim the Norwegian system over-promotes women who lack qualifications or are the wives or daughters of other directors.

Professor Susan Vinnicombe, the director of the International Centre for Women Leaders at Cranfield University, says the entire process of appointing board members is "flawed", operating "like a fiefdom" of the company chairman based on cliques and personal relationships. "It is a weird and mysterious exercise that is tilted away from all outsiders," said Professor Vinnicombe. "There are a whole lot of men who get overlooked as well, but the worst affected are women."

Campaigners reject the oft-repeated claim that there are simply not enough women qualified to take on top jobs, pointing out that there are more than 2,500 women on public companies' executive committees – one step below the board – let alone the thousands more flying high in private companies, the public sector and charities.

Such is the antipathy for overt regulation that insiders expect Lord Davies's recommendations will follow the Australian example, using the "soft power" of lobbying efforts and mentoring programmes rather than the blunt instrument of a quota.

So far, the results look better. In the first six months of 2010, 31 women have been appointed to major companies' boards, compared with just 10 in the whole of last year.

100 companies – only five female bosses

Cynthia Carroll - Anglo American

Boss who met barrage of sexism

After 19 years in the aluminium industry, Ms Carroll might have thought she had seen it all. But as the first female boss of mining giant Anglo American she was publicly accused of sexually-frustrated professional incompetence by no less than the company's former deputy chairman.

At the height of a long-running takeover battle with rival Xstrata last year, Graham Boustred told South Africa's Business Day newspaper: "This woman's hopeless."

But that was just the beginning of Mr Boustred's barrage of sexist prejudice. "Do you know why it's difficult to find a female CEO?" he said. "It's because most women are sexually frustrated. If you have a chief executive who's sexually frustrated she can't act properly." Notwithstanding Mr Boustred's analysis, Ms Carroll saw off Xstrata and is widely regarded as one of the mining industry's most successful bosses.

Katherine Garrett-Cox - Alliance Trust

Prodigy who combines work with four children

A star of the asset management industry, she is one of a handful of "superwomen" known for juggling a large family and a high-flying career.

Known as "Katherine the Great" among her peers, there was little surprise when Ms Garrett-Cox was bumped up to the top job at Alliance Trust in 2008, just 15 months after she joined the company. The businesswoman earned her nickname early in her two-decade career, when she was appointed head of US equities at Hill Samuel at the age of 26. She now leads a company founded in 1888 which manages several billion pounds-worth of assets.

Marjorie Scardino - Pearson

Still going, the FTSE 100’s first female chief

When she was appointed to run the vast Pearson publishing empire in 1997, she instantly became a symbol for women trying to crack the glass ceiling. American-born Ms Scardino – who was ranked the 19th most powerful woman in the world in 2009 – was the FTSE 100's first ever female chief executive and her appointment was widely hailed as a trailblazer for others. But it would be another eight years before another woman followed her into the big league – Dorothy Thompson, the boss of power station company Drax, which has subsequently dropped out of the FTSE 100.

Alison Cooper - Imperial Tobacco

She made it – and doesn’t see why others can’t

When she took up the post of chief executive in April, Ms Cooper was only the second English woman FTSE 100 boss. Unlike the majority of her female counterparts, Ms Cooper has been outspoken on the role of gender in business, roundly dismissing the concept of a glass ceiling limiting women's achievements. "I can't say I have ever seen a glass ceiling," she said shortly before taking up the top job. She is also against regulation to address the marked gender imbalance. "I am not in favour of any forced proportions of women on boards," she said.

Angela Ahrendts - Burberry

£1.8m bonus shows value of fashion label supremo

Another American at the top of British business, Ms Ahrendts is famous for never having had a day off in her entire 25-year career. It is a strategy that has paid off. When she was appointed at Burberry in 2006, she took the accolade of the UK's best-paid female executive. And last year she scooped a £910,000 basic salary plus a £1.8m bonus, share option gains of another £2.8m and an allowance of £387,000, including money for clothes. The company thinks she is worth it. She is credited with helping to drag the brand, and its most famous check, away from a progressively downmarket image.

peopleTop Gear presenter and all-round controversialist is at it again
Life & Style
techHow a 'grey brick' took over the world of portable gaming
Aaron Ramsey celebrates after opening the scoring in Arsenal's win over Hull `
peopleActress speaks out against historic sexual assault claims, saying things have 'gone quite far now'

Coren Mitchell, who is the daughter of the late broadcaster Alan Coren and is married to comedian David Mitchell, produced a hand to make poker history at the 98th EPT main event.
peopleJournalist and TV presenter becomes first ever two-time winner of the European Poker Tour
Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
tvReview: New 10-part series brims with characters and stories

Life & Style
Guests enjoy food and cocktail parings by Chefs Jimmy Bannos, Jimmy Bannos Jr, Daniel Rose and Mindy Segal with mixologists Josh King and Alex Gara at Bounty & Barrel: A Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Dinner Series at Heaven on Seven on April 9, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois.
food + drinkSprinkle Palcohol 'on almost any dish' for 'an extra kick' firm says...
Arts & Entertainment
Shaun Evans as Endeavour interviews a prisoner as he tries to get to the bottom of a police cover up
tvReview: Second series comes to close with startling tale of police corruption and child abuse
Arts & Entertainment
Schwarzenegger winning Mr. Universe 1969
arts + entsCan you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
politicsLabour launches the 'completely hollow' Easter Clegg
Luis Suarez celebrates after scoring in Liverpool's 3-2 win over Norwich
sport Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth-II by David Bailey which has been released to mark her 88th birthday
peoplePortrait released to mark monarch's 88th birthday
Arts & Entertainment
The star of the sitcom ‘Miranda’ is hugely popular with mainstream audiences
TVMiranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
Life & Style
The writer, Gerda Saunders, with her mother, who also suffered with dementia before her death
healthGerda Saunders on the most formidable effect of her dementia
Arts & Entertainment
Last, but by no means least, is Tommy Cooper and the fez. This style of hat became a permanent trademark of his act.
comedyNot Like That, Like This centres on alleged domestic abuse
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Database Team Lead ( Leadership, Sybase, Computer Science)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Database Team Lead ( Leadership, Sybase, Compute...

C#.NET Delphi SQL Developer (C#,DELPHI,SQL)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: C#.NET D...

VB.NET SQL Junior-Mid Level Developer (VB.NET,SQL,Excellent com

£25000 - £35000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET S...

Trade Support, Application Support, Operations Analyst, CRM MS

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Bonus and Benefits: Harrington Starr: Trade Suppor...

Day In a Page

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

The man who could have been champion of the world

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
Didn’t she do well?

Didn’t she do well?

Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
Before they were famous

Before they were famous

Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players