UK lags further on women directors

Britain languishes behind most major European economies on gender equality in the boardroom despite recent moves to increase female representation.

The UK ranks 10th out of 17 countries in Société Générale's annual survey and is the fourth worst when counting companies with no women at all on their boards.

Norway is the top-ranked country with 41.8 per cent female directors, after it imposed a quota of 40 per cent on public companies.

The biggest increase in the past year was in France, which saw a 40 per cent jump after it legislated for quotas. Germany was behind the UK three years ago but its female representation has jumped to 12.3 per cent from 5.7 per cent while Britain has gone from 8.3 per cent to 10.1 per cent.

Niamh Whooley, one of the report's authors, said: "There is a lot of activity taking place in the UK on the ground and I would expect to see a lot of change coming through.

"In Germany we had seen quite slow performance but they have really upped the ante. In the next year we would expect to see a significant jump in the UK very similar to Germany. Progress will be monitored and companies will have to ensure numbers of women at board level increase."

Lord Davies, the former trade minister, recommended in February that FTSE 100 company boards should have at least 25 per cent women by 2015.

A report this week by Cranfield Business School found that only a third of FTSE 100 companies had heeded Lord Davies's call for them to set targets for an increase of more than 10 per cent.

The report warned that female board appointments could become "tokenism" unless companies made sure there was a pipeline of women coming up through the ranks.