Rise in number of women in UK boardrooms, but progress is slow

Fewer than one in 10 of the UK's biggest companies have a female executive director

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The Independent Online

Equality campaigners are calling for a push to get more women into executive directorships, even as the latest report into boardrooms hails “enormous” progress on diversity over the past four years.

Fewer than one in 10 of the UK’s biggest companies have a female executive director – involved in managing the company directly, rather than overseeing its management – according to the research published today.

While the number of total number of female directors in the UK’s 100 largest companies has almost doubled over four years to 263, just 24 of their executive directors are women, it notes.

Only five have female chief executives: Liv Garfield at Severn Trent, Carolyn McCall at easyJet, Alison Cooper at Imperial Tobacco, Moya Greene at Royal Mail and Véronique Laury at Kingfisher, although this is a high.

Lord Davies of Abersoch, publishing his annual report on boardrooms alongside research by Cranfield School of Management at Cranfield University, said that the target he set in 2011 of 25 per cent female directors on FTSE 100 boards by 2015 would be met by the end of the year.

During the period, female representation has risen to 23.5 per cent, and only 17 more women need to be appointed to boards by the end of the year to meet the target.

Lord Davies said: “What we have in fact seen taking place is little short of a revolution in boardrooms of FTSE 100 companies.” Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, praised the “enormous progress”. He now believes the UK figure could exceed by a third by 2020. 

But Mr Cable told The Independent: “An enormous amount still has to be done. The real issue we found is that more effort is still required. We need to change the outlooks of some of the recruitment firms. Some of them are quite progressive, but not all.” He added that focus should be on ensuring women are rising fast enough through the pipeline and taking executive positions.

The Female FTSE Report by Cranfield also concluded that firms needed to look below board level at the “pipeline” of upcoming managers and to encourage a working culture in which meritocracy is nurtured. 

Improvement could also happen on FTSE 250 boards. As many as 23 still have no women board members and only 4.6 per cent of executive directors are women. 

Terry Scuoler, the chief executive of the manufacturers’ organisation, the EEF, said: “Meeting target is not enough. Gains in female board representation are being made in non-executive roles, but there continues to be a low number of female executive directors.”

A number of lobbyists also called for the push on diversity to extend beyond female directors. The Institute of Directors’ senior diversity adviser, Lisa Buckingham, added that diversity does not end with gender.

Sharron Gunn, at the accountant’s institute, the ICAEW, added: “You can’t just evaluate success or failure on how many women are recruited into board positions... businesses need to measure the success of their leaders by how well they support diversity and inclusion.

“This goes beyond women. They must reflect how they create work environments that inspire talented people, whether male or female and from whatever background, to become business leaders.”