HR & Management

As UK smashes target of 25% women on boards, Lord Davies raises the bar to 33%

4 min read

29 October 2015

Women’s representation on the FTSE 100 has more than doubled to 26 per cent in less than five years, with “realistic, achievable and stretching targets for businesses” being a key driver of progress, according to former trade minister Lord Davies.

There are now 14.5m women working in the UK, which is an increase of 900,000 since 2010 – with female employment having increased faster in Britain than any other G7 country. In addition, 26.1 per cent of women are on FTSE 100 boards and 19.6 per cent are on FTSE 250 boards. 

Furthermore, there are no all-male boards left in the FTSE 100. These findings came from Lord Davies’ latest report, “Improving the Gender Balance on British Boards”, in which he hailed the “near revolution that has taken place in the boardroom and profound culture change at the heart of British business.”

But he suggested the smashed target of 25 per cent should now be raised to 33 per cent by 2020 and widened the scope to all FTSE 350 firms. He cautioned, however, against the introduction of legally enforced quotas, describing them as “unwarranted”.

“There is plenty of evidence to show the voluntary regime is working, as each and every month the percentage of women on FTSE boards increases,” the report claimed.

Currently the UK ranks sixth in Europe behind Norway, Sweden, France, Finland and Belgium  – many of which have set formal quotas for female representation.

Nora Senior, president of the British Chambers of Commerce, further highlighted that there was no need for “overbearing government regulation”. She added: “Gender discrimination has no place in the workplace in 21st-century Britain. We should not lose sight of the fact that business still needs to step up to the task of nurturing the pipeline of women at middle management level onto executive teams. More work remains to be done on internal appointments as well as external to ensure that female talent can rise to the very top.”

While firms have been appointing more female directors, few have promoted women into top jobs. Most female directors hold non-executive roles. Research by the Guardian showed there were more men called John running FTSE 100 companies than all the female bosses combined.

Dianah Worman, diversity adviser at the CIPD, explained that the proportion of female executive directors has remained below ten per cent, with just eight more women in such positions across FTSE 100 companies since 2011. 

“Non-executive directors cannot change the culture of organisations on their own,” she said. “All efforts so far towards achieving gender diversity will be for nothing if organisations don’t understand how crucial the visibility of female executive directors make a real, long-lasting difference.”

The Davies review suggested “further work and a renewed focus is required” to increase women’s representation, and called for or an independent steering body to be set up to support companies in 2016.

In the meant time, the government has plans to bring in a target to include women on the boards of all the UK’s top 350 companies. This will come as part of a series of “equality-boosting measures” which it hopes to introduce in the first half of 2016 – including having larger employers publish the amount awarded to men and women in bonuses in order to reduce the gender pay gap.

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Drawing on ten years of the First Women movement and the phenomenal network of pioneering women the Awards has created, this programme features The First Women Awards and The First Women Summit  designed to educate, mentor and inspire women in all levels of business.