More female FDs needed on company boards

Increasing the percentage of women at board level is as much about improving corporate boards as achieving social objectives

20 May 2011

By Janice Warman

Concept image of a woman's eye seen through the keyhole of a door

Lady Margery Corbett Ashby would have been dismayed. More than eight decades after she helped to win votes for women, only a tiny fraction of them have reached the top levels of British business.

Yet 30 years after her death, the percentage of women on the boards of FTSE-100 companies is a dismal 12.5 percent, and you can count the number of female chief executives in the FTSE-100 on one hand (yes, that’s five). In the FTSE-250, there are even fewer: just 7.8 percent. A long-awaited report from Lord Davies, former trade minister and ex-chairman of Standard Chartered, has called for 25 percent of members of British boards to be women by 2015, but stopped short of suggesting quotas.

While from a low base, it is apparent that real change is underway. The Financial Reporting Council (FRC) is considering amending the UK Corporate Governance Code to require listed companies to establish a policy concerning boardroom diversity, including measurable objectives for implementing the policy. It may require them to disclose annual summaries of the policy and the progress made.

Dinosaurs must die

However, there is still a disconnect between possible changes to the code enforcing compliance and current attitudes.

“The situation now compared with 10 years ago is that the number of women in executive and non-executive positions has barely moved,” says Aidan Bell, consultant at the chief financial officer practice of Spencer Stuart. “Companies have it higher on the agenda - but in reality, very little has changed.”

One can only imagine what Lady Margery would have thought of events at a recent City dinner. One guest, perhaps lulled by good food and wine and the vast preponderance of men in the room, delivered what another called “an unbelievably Neolithic perspective” on women in the boardroom.


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