Lord Davies’ review into the gender balance of boardrooms, set to be published next week, will shun compulsory quotas for women in favour of a more deep-seated approach, according to HR experts.

The review is expected to provide recommendations that employers support flexible working, set up mentoring schemes for senior women and bring about culture change through training programmes.

With more than 2,000 contributions from employers and interest groups, the review should offer a better-informed set of recommendations and not a “quick fix with numbers,” according to Dianah Worman, diversity adviser at the CIPD.

“Compulsory quotas alone would not be enough. Even though this is what they did in Norway, their experience was underpinned by a lot of other provisions. Bringing in quotas now would not help the situation, which is a very complicated one,” said Worman.

Senior female leaders contacted by PM agreed.

Anne Minto, Centrica’s group HR director, said: “I am not wholly convinced about quotas, although there are some very persuasive arguments in favour.

"I think the problems are much more fundamental, in that we need to tackle the number of women coming through our organisations into general management. Until we do, we won’t have enough talent coming through to fill CEO or chairman roles. In our talent management scheme we are really pushing to find women to be general managers.”

It has been suggested that softer targets could be set, raising female board presence to between 15 and 30 per cent, with the threat of compulsory quotas within two years if they are not met.

But Charlotte Sweeney, head of diversity and inclusion, EMEA, at Nomura said that, if quotas were used, a phased approach would be needed.

Enforcing a target of 30 per cent within two years, for example, could mean all board-level nominations for the next two years would have to be women, she said. “That wouldn’t be a realistic solution,” she added.

Kathryn Britten, partner and chairman of KPMG Forensic, warned that women could fall foul of boardroom “monoculture” if they were parachuted in using quotas, and agreed that there had to be a wider strategy to tackle the issue.

Other recommendations the female leaders hoped to see include a sponsorship scheme to bolster women’s confidence, and a code of practice for headhunters to ensure they support women applicants.

One dissenting voice was that of Sheelagh Whittaker, non-executive director at Standard Life and Imperial Oil, who said she was “totally in support of quotas”.

“Society has been pursuing this issue for 40 years and we still have a number like 10 per cent. We will only have true equality when we have as many incompetent women on boards as incompetent men.”

She told PM that women were setting themselves a standard in terms of being qualified that is not formally applied to boards and that men don’t necessarily adhere to.

“Women opposing quotas is like turkeys arguing for Christmas,” she said.