Mary Schapiro. Credit: SEC

FTSE 100 boards are finally 25% women

Hitting Lord Davies' target is good, but British business can and should do better.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 10 Aug 2015

FTSE 100 boards up and down the country may well be giving themselves a celebratory back pat right now: they are finally more than one quarter female. But any huzzahs ought to be short-lived – this is just the start, and a small one at that, in increasing diversity in British business.

Then-business secretary Vince Cable set the 25% voluntary target in 2011 in 2011, after a report by Lord Mervyn Davies. When Davies gave his most recent update in March the figure was 23.5%.

The quarter mark was passed (the figure is now 25.4%) following a spate of recent appointments, according to headhunter Sapphire Partners. New directors include Irene Lee and Pauline van der Meer Mohr at HSBC, Diane Schueneman at Barclays, Belen Romana Garcia at Aviva and Mary Schapiro at the London Stock Exchange.

But they are all non-execs and the proportion of female executives remains pitifully low: 9.5% (25) in the FTSE 100, 5% (27) in the FTSE 250. Although that’s also a record, it’s not one to be particularly proud of. And the UK’s 350 largest companies, while important, particularly symbolically, are only the beginning.

As O2’s HR head and board director Ann Pickering put it, ‘It’s crucial that businesses view the 25% target not just as a long-awaited finishing line, but as a stepping stone to achieving that much bigger goal: true workplace diversity… the reality is that there are thousands of women who are yet to see this progress in their place of work.’

And it also bears repeating that diversity isn’t just about equal numbers of men and women. A staggering 62 of the FTSE 100 have all-white boards. And what about LGBT representation? Disabilities? The list goes on.

Large British companies do appear to have woken up to the value of diversity (which research shows has a tangible impact on the bottom line, as well as being The Right Thing morally). But for real change companies have to go further than independent female directors and little more than lip service to everything else.

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