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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.

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.

Photo: Getty Images/Richard Stonehouse
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Here's how Jeremy Corbyn can win back the Midlands

The Midlands is where elections are decided - and where Jeremy Corbyn can win. 

The Midlands: this “formless” place is where much of Labour’s fate lies. The party witnessed some of its most disappointing 2015 results here. In those early, depressing hours of 8 May, Nuneaton was the result that rang the death knell of Labour’s election chances. Burton, Cannock Chase, Halesowen & Rowley Regis, Redditch and Telford weren’t far behind. To win here Labour need to build a grassroots movement that engages swing voters.

Luckily, this is also a place with which Labour’s new leader has a natural affinity. The bellwether seat of Nuneaton is where Jeremy Corbyn chose to hold his last regional rally of the leadership contest; just a couple of counties over you’ll find the home Corbyn moved to in Shropshire when he was seven. He cut his political teeth round the corner in marginal constituency The Wrekin; it was in this key seat he did his first stint of campaigning. Flanked by a deputy leader, Tom Watson, who represents Labour stronghold West Bromwich East, Corbyn has his eye on the Midlands.

As MP for Islington North since 1983, Labour’s leader has earned London-centric credentials that have long since overshadowed his upbringing. But Corbynism isn’t a phenomenon confined to the capital. The enthusiasm that spilled out of Corbyn’s summer leadership rallies across the country has continued into the autumn months; Labour’s membership is now over 370,000. It’s fast catching up with 1997 figures, which are the highest in the party’s recent history.

London is the biggest beneficiary of this new movement - with 20 per cent of Labour’s members and 19 per cent of new members who signed up the week before conference coming from the capital. But Corbynism is flourishing elsewhere. 11 per cent of all Labour party members now reside in the southeast. In that same pre-conference week 14 per cent of new members came from this mostly Tory blue area of the country. And since last year, membership in the southwest increased by 124 per cent. Not all, but a good deal of this, is down to Corbyn’s brand of anti-austerity politics.

A dramatic rise in membership, with a decent regional spread, is nothing to be sneered at; people are what you need to create an election-winning grassroots movement. But, as May proved, having more members than your opposition doesn’t guarantee victory. Corbyn has spoken to many who’d lost faith in the political system but more people need to be won over to his cause.  

This is clear in the Midlands, where the party’s challenges are big. Labour’s membership is swelling here too, but to a lesser degree than elsewhere. 32 per cent of party members now and 13 per cent of those who joined up in seven days preceding conference hail from this part of the country.

But not all potential Labour voters will become card-carrying members. Corbyn needs to speak to swing voters. These people have no party colours and over the summer they had mixed views on Corbynism. In Nuneaton, Newsnight found a former Labour turned Ukip voter who thought Corbyn would take Labour “backwards” and put the economy at risk. But a fellow Ukip voter said he saw Corbyn as “fresh blood”.

These are enduring splits countrywide. Voters in key London marginal Croydon Central gave a mixed verdict on Corbyn’s conference speech. They thought he was genuine but were worried about his economic credibility. While they have significant doubts, swing voters are still figuring out who Labour’s new leader is.

This is where the grassroots movement comes into play. Part of the challenge is to get out there and explain to these people exactly who the party is, what it’s going to offer them and how it’s going to empower them to make change. 

Labour have nascent plans to make this reality in the Midlands. Tom Watson advocated bringing back to life this former industrial heartland by making it a base for manufacturing once again – hopefully based on modern skills and technologies.  He’s also said the leadership team will make regular regional visits to key seats. Watson’s words chime with plans floated by shadow minister Jon Trickett: to engage people with citizens’ assemblies where they have a say over Labour politics.

But meetings alone don’t make grassroots movements. Alongside the economy, regional identity is a decisive issue in this – and other – area(s) of the country. With the influx in money brought in by new members, Labour should harness peoples’ desire for belonging, get into communities and fill the gaps the Government are leaving empty. While they’re doing this, they could spread the word of a proper plan for devolution, harking back to the days of municipal socialism, so people know they’ll have power over their own communities under Labour.

This has to start now, and there’s no reason why the Midlands can’t act as a model. Labour can engage with swing voters by getting down to a community level and start showing – and not just saying –  how the party can make a difference. 

Maya Goodfellow is a freelance journalist.