Women now make up a quarter of new FTSE board members

Elizabeth Fournier
A QUARTER of new FTSE 100 board hires made in 2011 were female, research will reveal this morning, in a new record that highlights a dramatic change at the top of Britain’s largest companies.

Of the 190 appointments made to FTSE 100 boards during 2011, 47 were women, boosting the total number of female-held directorships in blue chip companies to 15.6 per cent – a marked improvement on the sluggish rise that had seen figures hit a plateau of around 12 per cent for the past three years. In 2010, just 13.3 per cent of new board positions went to women.

The number of FTSE 100 companies with entirely male boards has dropped to 11 – a fall of almost half in just 12 months – while the number with more than one woman on the board has increased to 50.

But though overall numbers of women on FTSE boards are increasing, the Cranfield School of Management’s annual female FTSE report does highlight how female directors are overwhelmingly taking up non-executive positions, with most executive roles still going to male candidates.

Of the 47 board female FTSE 100 appointments last year, just four were executive roles. Internal promotions at property group British Land and leisure firm Intercontinental Hotels saw Lucinda Bell and Tracy Robbins take executive positions, while consumer goods group Reckitt Benckiser and retailer Marks & Spencer looked further afield in appointing Liz Doherty and Laura Wade-Gery to their respective executive boards.

The number of FTSE 100 companies with female chief executives has remained static at four. Of these, three ­– Angela Ahrendts at Burberry, Anglo American’s Cynthia Carroll and Pearson boss Dame Marjorie Scardino ­– were born in the US, though Scardino has taken UK citizenship.

This reliance on overseas talent is reflected in the wider findings, which show just 55 per cent of female directors hold UK citizenship, while 29 per cent are American or Canadian.

The report is being launched this morning by Barclays’ chair Marcus Agius and home secretary Theresa May, who said she was “delighted” by the “unprecedented progress”.

But though the UK’s biggest companies are making headway, improvement among smaller listed firms is less advanced. Just 9.4 per cent of FTSE 250 directorships are held by women – an increase on the 7.8 per cent recorded in 2010 but still well behind their bigger rivals.

The number of FTSE 250 boards with no female members has also fallen but still only just tips the balance, with 54 per cent now counting a women among their directors.

The progress update comes just a week after EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding chastised firms for failing to work towards her targets of 30 per cent female directors by 2015, and threatened mandatory EU quotas if self-regulation did not improve.

In a government-commissioned report on FTSE 100 board diversity released just over a year ago, Lord Davies recommended a minimum target of 25 per cent female representation on FTSE 100 boards by 2015.

“I believe we’re on a steady journey towards our 25 per cent target,” Lord Davies said today. “But the reality is that a lot more still needs to be done.”

As fresh hires in 2011 met the target, Cranfield’s most optimistic projections see the current trajectory smash through the target to hit 26.7 per cent by 2015. But more conservative estimates show how the FTSE 100 may just miss the goal – rising to 22 per cent.