Women still not cracking the boardroom

Just a quarter of company directors are women, a surveys says. Are new laws the answer?

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 21 Dec 2010
Most businesspeople would probably agree that Britain's boardrooms aren't as diverse as they should be. But some new research by Creditsafe reminds us of the scale of the problem: its research has shown that just a quarter of company directors are women, while a third of boards are composed entirely of men. Coming on the anniversary (almost to the day) of a report by Dr Ruth Sealy last year suggesting that the number of female directors at FTSE 100 companies had remained entirely unchanged over the course of a year, there don't seem to be many signs of progress - despite all that talk in the aftermath of the crash that we need more women at UK plc's top table...

According to Creditsafe, one in every 11 men in the UK apparently holds at least one directorship (which sounds a lot to us, but there you go), compared to one in every 33 women. Limited companies with all-female directorships are even rarer, representing just 10% of businesses registered at Companies House. And the siutation hasn’t improved much lately – apparently, over the last year, the proportion of female directors taken on by new start-ups was a measly 1%. On the plus side, at least we’re better than Germany, where just one in five directors is female, and at about the same level as France, where three-quarters are men.

This is a shame, the report suggests, not least because companies with all-women directors are much better than their male-run counterparts when it comes to managing money. According to Creditsafe's research, businesses with women-only boards are 51% better at collecting money owed to them than those with male directors. But they’re not just better when it comes to getting cash – they’re also better at dishing it out: apparently, companies with female directors are 49% better at paying their invoices on time than male-only companies. Which tends to be good for supplier relationships. If women ruled the world…

Yesterday afternoon, QC (and, apparently, business pundit) Cherie Blair told Radio 4’s The World at One that the law has an important role to play in shifting views of women's role in business. ‘The question is how you formulate the law,’ she said. ‘We have to give the public confidence that people are being appointed to positions on merit’. She makes a good point: with businesses everywhere voicing complaints over the equalities legislation introduced earlier this year, the Government’s big challenge will be to change attitudes without distorting the market (and without adding to the red tape burden). Good luck with that.

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