FTSE shies away from female board targets

A report suggests blue-chip companies haven't set themselves the targets Lord Davies would have hoped for - but things are improving.

by Emma Haslett

Top marks to Rolls-Royce and Lloyds Banking Group, two companies highlighted in a report by Cranfield University into how well big business is doing at recruiting more women to their boards. Apparently, both companies are planning to increase their female board membership to between 20-23%. The rest of the FTSE 100, though, hasn’t done quite such sterling work: only 33 members have managed to set a target for the number of women they plan have on their boards by 2015, as suggested by Lord Davies in his February report into the matter.

To refresh your memory, while Davies’ report shied away from the idea of introducing quotas, he did suggest that businesses set their own targets – although he added that if the voluntary approach doesn’t up the number of women on boards to 25% by 2015, the idea of quotas may be brought back in. For the first time, though, 133 FTSE 250 boards have female-held directorships – which puts those without women on their boards in the minority.

The report by Cranfield makes for mixed reading: 22.5% of all new boardroom appointments have been women. Although that falls short of the 33% recommended by Davies to increase the number of women on boards to the requisite 25%. But while only 14.2% of boardroom seats in the FTSE 100 are held by women, that’s up from 12.5% in 2010. The other encouraging point is that 14 out of the 21 women appointed to FTSE 100 boards, and 20 of the 28 women appointed to FTSE 250 boards didn’t have any previous experience on at FTSE companies – which means directors are beginning to open up the appointment process.

The arguments for and against quotas on boards have been repeated plenty of times, not least by us: while Norway’s quota system saw female board membership jump to just over 44% within a short space of time, businesses point out that directors should be recruited on merit, not because of their gender. But while businesses haven’t quite met Davies’ targets, it looks like they’re beginning to sit up and take notice. Encouraging stuff…

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