Proportion of female directors passes 20 per cent in FTSE 100 

Business secretary Vince Cable has urged the country’s largest firms to step up their efforts to appoint more women onto boards this year.

In February 2011, Lord Davies challenged listed companies to have 25 per cent of their boardroom roles filled by women by 2015. This voluntary target was set after it emerged the figure was only 12.5 per cent at the time of Lord Davies’ review.

Cable and Lord Davies have now written to all FTSE 350 companies a year ahead of this deadline, suggesting they adopt “three targeted initiatives” to improve gender diversity at the most senior level.

They have asked company chairs to appoint at least one female director over the next 12 months, to consider giving two female managers the opportunity to serve as non-executive directors at another firm, and to state clear targets and strategies for boosting the number of women at senior management and board level.

Cable said: “In the past few years we’ve made great progress in improving boardroom diversity and the momentum has turned. But the time for talking and listening is over – we now need to start seeing businesses acting on their words.

“We’re now on the home stretch and countries across the world are looking at the voluntary approach we’ve taken,” he added. “We need to show them that we can get over the finish line.”

The call from the business secretary comes as new statistics show that the proportion of women on FTSE 100 boards has surpassed 20 per cent for the first time, to stand at 20.4 per cent. 

According to the latest data from the Professional Boards Forum BoardWatch tracker, another 51 female appointments are needed to meet the 25 per cent target.

There are now only two all-male boards in the FTSE 100 – Glencore Xstrata and Antofagasta – down from 21 all-male boards in February 2011. 

The appointment of Liv Garfield at Severn Trent, and last year’s privatisation of Royal Mail – which is led by Moya Greene – means there are now four female chief executives in the FTSE 100.

However, the proportion of executive directors in FTSE 100 firms that are women (7.2 per cent up from 5.5 per cent), is still lagging behind the growing share of female non-executive directors (25.1 per cent up from 15.6 per cent). 

Progress has also been slower in the FTSE 250, where only 15.1 per cent of boardroom seats are held by women – although this is up from 7.8 per cent in February 2011.

Kathryn Nawrockyi, director of the gender diversity campaign Opportunity Now, said: “It’s great to see an increase in the number of women on boards and we welcome Vince Cable’s call for FTSE 350 companies to appoint more female directors.

“Of course, those directors should not be appointed just because they’re women, but because they’re the best people for the job,” she continued.

“We are also particularly concerned about the lack of female executive directors in FTSE 350 companies, which is often caused by a shortage of women in senior management roles, and would encourage organisations to consider how they can increase the number of women at all levels, not just in the boardroom.”

Lord Davies is due to present the annual update on his Women on Boards report in March.