By Samantha Downes, Ella Mag ed.
Great news… there have never been so female directors on top company boards.
Bad news… the number of female directors is still far short of a 25 per cent target set by a government review last year.
The Davies report, which I wrote about here last year recommended that companies in the FTSE 100 should have 25% female board membership by 2015.
The Cranfield School of Management has been noting the progress of the report’s proposed target.
But we have come some way to breaking the glass ceiling in 1999 just 6.9% of directors in top companies were women and this time last year it was 12.5%.
Cranfield reckons it could rise to 36.9% by 2020, well above the Davies target.
There are now 141 women holding 163 board seats in FTSE 100 firms, while the number of companies with no women board members has fallen to 11.
Drinks giant Diageo had the biggest percentage of female directors at 44%, said the Cranfield report, adding that the number of women at senior executive level varied “dramatically”.
But and a big, big ‘but’ here, the Davies report only covers the UK’s top companies.
Liz Field, chief executive of the Financial Skills Partnership is one of many to note that while the increase in top board membership is clearly welcome, a lot more work could be done to help adjust the gender balance throughout company hierarchies, in particular at the level immediately below the one currently reported on.
She says recent research indicates that female participation at this level is actually declining rather than rising, a trend that needs to reversed if we are to ensure a continuous pipeline of female talent. Companies would do well to follow in the footsteps of the most progressive amongst them which – besides introducing better diversity monitoring and tailored development and mentoring programmes for women – are also trying to tackle the most deep-seated causes such as unconscious bias.”
Carmen Watson, managing Director of Pertemps Network Group, agrees.
“We should be encouraged at the steady progress taking place at director level, we need to ensure there is a diverse pipeline of talent to continue to fill these positions in future.
“Women already have the capabilities to break through into the boardroom in larger quantities and need the support of much more progressive working conditions instead of being handed positions through quotas.
“It’s certainly healthy that we’re having the debate about whether quotas are needed to generate more female directors. However, using positive action this way could create tension among executives who have reached their position on merit alone, and this ultimately does a disservice to the many talented women we have in the UK. Businesses are starting to realise that change needs to be brought about but until proven strategies are introduced on a widespread basis, the change will never be significant or sustainable.”