Two of Britain's highest-profile female chief executives may have quit in recent weeks but the overall number of female directors in Britain has increased by 24 per cent over the past five years.
Research from Experian shows a leap in female appointments, and comes as larger firms narrow the gap with smaller companies in hiring women. Its study of 2.7m British businesses, which analysed the number of male and female directors of UK businesses between 2007 and 2012, found that the increase in female directors since 2007 outstripped male appointments, by 24 per cent compared with 15 per cent.
Women entrepreneurs launching start-up businesses had an important part to play in the shift: a third of the 1.4 million businesses that started up since 2007 have one or more female directors, adding 523,000 female directors overall, and 297,000 women were directors at firms that shut down during the five years. Max Firth, UK managing director for Experian's business information services division, said: "Smaller companies are clearly the driving force for female directors."
The news comes after two of the highest-profile female directors in the FTSE – Pearson chief executive Marjorie Scardino and Anglo American mining boss Cynthia Carroll, pictured – resigned.
In February 2011, the former banker, Lord Davies, published a government report pushing for 25% of boardroom seats to be held by women by 2015. Since then the percentage of women in FTSE 100 boardrooms has increased from 12.5 per cent to 17.3 per cent, although eight companies still have men-only boards.