Fewer women appointed to FTSE 100 boards

Progress in female representation on boards in Britain's top firms stagnated in the second half of last year, according to a survey by the Cranfield School of Management.

by Rebecca Burn-Callander
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013

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FTSE 100 companies are still far off the 25% target for women in board-level posts, it emerges today. In the first half of 2012, 44% of board level appointments at FTSE 100 firms went to women - neatly coinciding with the big push from Lord Davies and government at the end of 2011 to encourage all-male boards to change their ways. But that slowed to 26% in the second half of the year.

This takes the total female representation on boards to 17%, well below the 25% target and just a 2% improvement on 2011. Although, from a ‘glass half full’ perspective, only seven of the top 100 firms in Britain are now without a single female board director, and the current female representations figures are a marked improvement on 2010, when just 12.5% of board-level posts were held by women.

The most ‘women-friendly’ boards in the FTSE 100 are Burberry, with three female directors out of eight, and drinks giant Diageo, with four women directors out of 11.

Cranfield, which publishes this report each year, believes that the slowdown in female appointments indicates a complacency among FTSE 100 companies: ‘Despite women dominating the fields of human resources, law and marketing, this is not reflected at executive director level, where the positions are still going to men, who are being promoted internally over experienced female candidates,’ says co-author of the report, Professor Susan Vinnicombe.

In his report in 2011, Lord Davies stopped short of recommending mandatory quotas for women executives (a regulatory step that has proved extremely effective in Sweden), and critics claim that this has taken the pressure off big business to even out the gender balance. But many of the organisations campaigning for more women on boards, from the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM) to the 30% club, claim that positive discrimination could do more harm than good.

Rather than implement quotas, ‘organisations need to address cultural barriers’ says Charles Elvin, CEO of the ILM, adding that while there is no single ‘glass ceiling’ this under-representation is ‘due to the management practices, attitudes and behaviour of existing senior managers.’

Business secretary, Vince Cable, also believes that quotas are not the answer: ‘Government continues to believe that a voluntary led approach is the best way forward,’ he says. ‘But today's report also serves as a timely reminder to business that quotas are still a real possibility if we do not meet the target of 25% of women on boards of FTSE companies by 2015.’

FTSE 100, you have been warned…

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