Female board appointments in the UK rise, but are still off-target

47 new hires out of 190 were women in the year to 2012.

In the German chancellery, a lone woman stands surrounded by men. Credit: Getty Images

The percentage of female board appointments in the UK has surged from 12 per cent in 2010 to 15.6 per cent in March 2012, according to a report from the Cranfield International Centre for Women released today.

The Cranfield 2012 Female FTSE report confirmed that out of 1,086 board positions, currently 141 women are holding 163 FTSE 100. It also revealed that number of firms with no women has declined to 11.

This report is published to mark the anniversary of the Lord Davies’ review, which recommended a minimum target of 25 per cent women representation on the boards of FTSE 100 companies by 2015.

Lord Davies said:

Over the last year some excellent progress has been made. We’ve seen a significant increase in the percentage of female board appointments and the number of all-male boards has halved. I believe we’re on a steady journey towards our 25 per cent target, but the reality is that a lot more still needs to be done.

In the year to January 2012, 47 new hires (25 per cent) out of 190 were women. Of these hires, 29 (62 per cent) women had no earlier FTSE board experience.

Davies added:

We’ve got to keep up the pressure on business - particularly on FTSE 250 companies. And at the same time CEOs must try and improve the gender balance of their executive committees, because this isn’t just about equality, it’s about performance. And the simple fact is that the more diverse your team, the better it performs.

If this hiring process continues at this speed, as predicted by Cranfield, 26.7 per cent of directors could be women by 2015 and 36.9 per cent by 2020, opening new opportunities for women in the country.

Professor Susan Vinnicombe, one of the report's co-authors, said:

The past 12 months have seen a significant amount of global activity around diversifying boards. After a decade of incremental increases in the UK, we are pleased to be reporting improvements that are more substantive.

If the momentum we have seen since the Lord Davies’ review continues we could achieve 30 per cent women on boards in less than four years, which would be a terrific achievement. We urge chairmen, chief executives, executive search firms, investors, journalists and women to stay focused and use this momentum to change the status quo permanently.

As per the report, Diageo, Burberry and Pearson are ranked first, second and third respectively in hiring women in executive positions this year.

Dr Ruth Sealy, the other co-author, said:

Whilst the overall percentage of women on boards has begun to increase at an encouraging rate, it is hard to ignore the fact that most of the increase is occurring amongst non-executive directorships (NED). Whilst the increase in the number of female NED positions is important, it is imperative to ensure that as much focus is placed on improving the female executive pipeline. This is requisite for better balanced boards and senior leadership going forward.