But only 5 females appointed to FTSE 100 directorships in last 12 months

The number of women on the boards of FTSE 100 companies has exceeded 200 for the first time since the launch of the Cranfield School of Management report in 2011.

Females who hold executive positions at FTSE 100 companies have risen to 20.7 per cent from 17.3 per cent in 2013, which means only 48 more women are needed to reach Lord Davies’ target of boardrooms being 25 per cent female by 2015.

Thirty-six companies on the FTSE 100 have already met the 25 per cent target, including Capita and Diageo, who have 44.4 per cent female representation on their boards.

Just two companies on this list – Glencore Xstrata and Antofagasta – now have all-male boards, down from 7 organisations in 2013.

This year’s Female FTSE Board Report 2014 also showed an increase in the number of women at board level in the FTSE 250 index, up from 13.3 per cent in 2013 to 15.6 per cent this year. Among these companies, 202 now have women on their boards, with the number of companies that have all-male boards down by over a half compared with three years ago.

Lord Davies said the rate of change had been “impressive” and showed that the voluntary approach – rather than enforcing mandatory quotas such as in France, Italy and Germany – was working.

But the authors of the report urged for sustained culture change to go beyond the 25 per cent target and ensure diversity on boards in the future.

“Whilst it is extremely encouraging to see the overall figures moving in the right direction, and the 25 per cent target in sight, the issue still remains that women are not being appointed to executive positions, despite there being a wealth of suitable candidates,” said Professor Susan Vinnicombe, report author and director of the Cranfield International Centre for Women Leaders.

According to the findings, the number of females appointed to executive-directorship (ED) positions is at its lowest ever at 291, down from 307 in 2013. Conversely the number of non-executive-directorship positions is at its highest: 826.

Of the 52 new female appointments to FTSE 100 boards this year, only 5 were executive director placements.

This year’s report includes a checklist of practical steps, based on interviews with talent experts in 12 major UK companies, to help organisations manage their female talent in a strategic and sustainable way.

Gaenor Bagley, executive board member and head of people at PwC, said this approach was vital for making sure opportunities to progress were open to all.

“We need to ensure that we don’t fall into the trap of assuming that only men have ambition and are aspirational because they articulate it in a certain way,” she said.

“This is about companies challenging the norm, measuring women against their own goals rather than enforced stereotypes, and asking why more women aren’t coming through to promotion.”

“Only through closer monitoring and challenging of gender differences at every stage of careers will companies understand what changes they need to make to bring about sustained change,” she added.

Estelle James, director at recruitment consultancy Robert Half, said employers needed to do more to level the playing field between men and women in the workplace.

“It should always be the best person for the job,” she said. “But offering the right career path and development opportunities, coupled with more flexible working options, will result in a larger pool of women ready to take their rightful seat at the boardroom table.”