Britain’s biggest companies are likely to hit a target of having 25% female boardrooms, but need to step up efforts to recruit women to the most powerful executive jobs, say researchers.
Companies listed on the FTSE 100 only need to recruit 17 more women to their boardrooms by the end of the year to meet the government-backed target, but researchers warned that more ambitious measures will be needed to avoid female recruitment stagnating.
The latest report from Lord Mervyn Davies, the government’s champion of gender equality in the boardroom, reveals that women now hold 23.5% of FTSE 100 directorships, up from 22.8% last October and almost double the number in 2011 when the target was set.
But progress has been slower when it comes to promoting women into the most powerful jobs in British companies – the chief executive, chief finance officer and chairmanship roles.
Women account for 8.6% of all executive roles on FTSE 100 companies – an all-time high that compares with 5.5% in 2011.
Recent research by the Guardian showed there are more men called John running FTSE 100 companies than all the female bosses put together. Among chief executives and chairs of FTSE 100 companies, there were 17 men called John (or Jean) – and seven women. Men called David or Dave outnumbered women by two to one.
No FTSE 100 company has achieved gender parity in the boardroom. The drinks conglomerate Diageo and Intercontinental Hotels Group come closest with 45.5% female directors. In the next rank are insurance group Admiral (41.7%), outsourcing company Capita (40%) and retailer Kingfisher (40%).
However, 59 FTSE 100 companies are falling below the 25% benchmark and 12 companies have only one woman on their boards.
The march of gender equality has also been slower among the smaller listed companies that make up the FTSE 250 index. The percentage of female directors has risen to 18%, while the number in executive jobs is 4.6%, virtually unchanged since 2011. Twenty-three FTSE 250 companies do not have a single woman in their boardrooms, including City of London Investment Trust, Enterprise Inns, JD Sports, Supergroup and Riverstone Energy.
Vince Cable, the business secretary, recently told the Guardian he would like to see a target on gender-balanced recruitment for the FTSE 250 and urged all companies to tackle the “serious deficiency” of women in the chief executive and chairmanship roles.
Responding to the latest figures, Cable said: “We have made good progress in the last four years, and if we continue this trend in the next parliament, I would expect to exceed a third of female representation by 2020. We know that’s where the tipping point lies in influencing decision-making. We must also focus on ensuring women are rising fast enough through the pipeline and taking up executive positions.”
But Elena Doldor at the Cranfield International Centre for Women Leaders warned that recruitment of female directors could slow down without more ambitious action from companies.
“Our predictions suggest that as we approach 2020, women’s representation on FTSE 100 boards is likely to stagnate around 28%. There are still not enough women on executive committees or in the executive pipeline. Introducing aspirational and measurable targets for women at all levels is the only way to achieve real progress. Growing the female talent pipeline needs to be high on the agenda for every board, CEO and executive committee.”
In his report, Davies also called on investors to play a more active role in improving gender balance in the companies. “While some investors lead the way in this area, many do not actively challenge companies on gender diversity at board and executive level,” the report stated.
Heather Jackson, founder of An Inspirational Journey, an organisation that advises companies on employee development, said: “The number and representation of women on FTSE 100 and 250 board positions in no executive roles is not the way to measure progress. The number of women attaining and developing executive and senior management roles is the way to monitor true progression.”
“What is disappointing is the FTSE 250 [results] because that is where we grow our talent.”
She said companies needed to make more effort to nurture female middle managers. “We have got to look at ways of retaining [women], nurturing them and getting them board ready at an early age. You don’t have to be an executive in your company to be a trustee or an [non-executive director] of a smaller company”
“We need to encourage more women to take up executive roles and encourage more chief executives to choose the right executive for the job regardless of gender.”
The Manufacturers’ Organisation (EEF) said the Davies report reflected a wider challenge for British industry.
“Until we attract more female apprenticeships, graduates and other new entrants, we will continue to see women under-represented at all levels of manufacturing, including the boardroom,” EEF chief executive Terry Scuoler said.
“Failing to tap into this rich resource is a wasted opportunity given our sector’s pressing and long-term need for skills.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010