Women failing to make strides in the boardroom

The latest Cranfield report shows the proportion of female directors appears to have plateaued around the 12% mark...

by James Taylor
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013
Disappointing news from the Cranfield School of Management's annual Female FTSE study; this year's figures show that just 12.5% of the directors of the UK's top 100 listed companies are now female - around one in eight. And the worrying thing is that nothing seems to be changing: this proportion is almost exactly the same as it was last year, and the year before, while just three additional women have been appointed in the last 12 months. Although on the bright side, it does look as though the talent pipeline is getting stronger...

Cranfield reckons that 135 of the 1,076 FTSE 100 directorships on FTSE boards are held by women - although since some hold more than one, that only equates to 116 women in total. This figure has barely inched up for three years now, despite all the talk about the benefits of board diversity in the wake of the financial crisis. And the situation is even worse for the FTSE 250: just 7.8% of directorships are held by women. The research suggests that boards recognise the value of having more women in their number - but they're still not hiring them.

There was some good news: only 21 of the FTSE 100 don't have any women at all on their board, down from 25 last year (although no fewer than 131 of the FTSE 250 have male-only boards). And there are some notable exceptions; at Burberry, for example, women hold three of the eight board positions; no coincidence, perhaps, that it also has a female CEO in Angela Ahrendts. Perhaps more significantly, report author Dr Ruth Sealy points out that there are now 2,551 women on the corporate boards and executive committees of FTSE-listed firms (the rung below the main board). So the talent pipeline is getting stronger all the time.

Still, there's clearly a lot more work to be done. Sealy is recommending that all boards be forced to explain themselves if women make up less than 20% of the board; that search consultants be forced to draw up more balanced candidate lists; and that FTSE 100 chairman should start exerting some peer pressure on their FTSE 250 counterparts to get with the programme. It does feel like things are moving - but judging by these figures, all too slowly.

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