Numbers of women in UK boardrooms still low

Equalities minister Nicky Morgan says high ranks still male dominated as report finds only 25% of FTSE 100 directors are female

Efforts to appoint more women to the boards of Britain’s biggest companies have stalled, while men still exert a tight grip on key decision-making positions, new data has revealed.

Less than a quarter of FTSE 100 boardroom recruits in the six months to March 2016 were women, the lowest level since 2011, according to the Female FTSE Board Report.

The minister for women and equalities, Nicky Morgan, said the figures showed that “momentum has not kept pace”, adding that it was time to “call out those sections of the business community who aren’t doing their bit”.

The report charts the progress of the government’s efforts to address the gender divide in British business.

In 2011 Mervyn Davies, a former trade minister, asked FTSE 100 businesses to ensure that 25% of directors were women. Lord Davies has since extended the voluntary challenge to all firms in the FTSE 350 and called on them to reach a target of 33% by 2020.

But while blue-chip FTSE 100 companies reached a level of 26% in October – up from 23.5% in March 2015 – the proportion has not increased since then.

Meanwhile FTSE 350 companies remain a long way from Davies’ target, staying at just 22%, and female representation dwindles significantly among the most influential executive positions.

Fewer than 10% of the three most senior positions at FTSE 100 firms were held by women, the report says, compared to nearly a third of less powerful non-executive roles.

“There are still more [people] called John chairing FTSE 100 boards than there are women,” said Morgan.

The report also reveals that 15 firms of Britain’s top 350 still have no women on their boards at all. These companiesinclude the Egypt-focused mining firm Centamin, the interdealer brokerage Icap, the gambling firm Playtech, the building materials group Grafton, and Hastings Insurance.

Lucy Neville-Rolfe, a minister in the department for business, who has been on the boards of firms such as ITV and Tesco, called on male dominated firms to mend their ways. “Making sure there’s at least one woman on every 350 board is an extremely good idea,” said Lady Neville-Rolfe. “Knowing who those 15 companies are is helpful. I’ve got the list and if they want to talk to me, of course they can.”

This year’s report also marks the moment when Davies hands over responsibility for the review to the team of Sir Philip Hampton, chair of GlaxoSmithKline, and Dame Helen Alexander, chair of the events group UBM.

Hampton has promised to focus on addressing the balance of executives, saying the overall increase in female board members over the past few years was largely a non-executive phenomenon. “We still have tiny numbers of women in senior executive positions in listed companies,” said Hampton, who has also served as chair of the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Fewer than 10% of the top three executives at any one UK company are women, the report reveals, while three firms have no women in executive jobs at all.

The trio with an all-male executive committee are Shell, the defence firm Babcock, and Provident Financial.

While Davies set a target of 25% women on FTSE 350 boards, Hampton and Alexander will oversee efforts to reach a more stretching target of 33% by 2020.

Hampton said he and Alexander were considering setting a new target for the executive pipeline of each company – the talent pool of staff thought destined for the top jobs.

Among FTSE 100 companies Diageo, the owner of Guinness, had the largest proportion of women on its board, with five of 11 boardroom seats at the drinks company occupied by women. The Chilean copper miner Antofagasta came in last place, with only one woman in 11.

The Female FTSE Board Report was written by academics from Cranfield School of Management, and sponsored by KPMG.

•This article was amended on Friday 8 July. The Female FTSE Board Report wrongly claimed that RSA Insurance had no woman executives.


Rob Davies

The GuardianTramp

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