Crunch time as firms seek women directors

Elizabeth Fournier

Y-FOUR per cent of the UK’s top 350 companies still have no women representatives on their boards, despite a recent push to improve boardroom diversity and encourage the appointment of female executives.

Over the past decade, the proportion of women on the boards of the UK’s biggest 350 public companies has increased from five to just nine per cent, according to new research from professional services firm Deloitte.

At that rate, it would take 20 years for women to make up 30 per cent of the boards of FTSE 350 firms, casting doubt on the targets set by Lord Davies in his report in February.

Lord Davies is expected to claim early success in the campaign to push for women to make up 25 per cent women of FTSE 100 boards tonight at an event at Downing Street, when he will announce that nearly a third of all FTSE 100 appointments since he published his report have been women. According to Deloitte the figure across the entire FTSE 350 also show progress, with women accounting for almost a fifth of the 250 board appointments made since the report. These include Lucinda Bell, finance director of British Land, and Alliance Trust chair Lesley Knox, who was made a non-exec at SABMiller.

But critics claim the pool of women from which directors are being sourced is limited. Between 2009 and 2010 the percentage of female directors holding two seats increased from 9.5 per cent to 12.5 per cent, claims Cranfield School of Management.

Ahead of Davies’ announcement, the Financial Reporting Council yesterday said it would amend the Corporate Governance Code to strengthen rules on diversity, including making listed companies report annually on boardroom policies.

But it seems that despite the drive to up female representation, the UK isn’t producing the homegrown talent needed to fill roles. In 2009, of the 14 women hired as FTSE 100 directors for the first time, one was British, and of the five female FTSE 100 CEOs in 2011, just two are British, and three American.