Analysis: More women join British boards, but male executives still rule

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Bloomberg

Former UK trade minister Mervyn Davies has written to FTSE 350 firms, urging them to hire more women in top positions. Photo: Bloomberg

Belinda Goldsmith London

More women are sitting on the boards of Britain’s blue-chip companies, but the glass ceiling is yet to crack, with most top jobs still held by men and companies needing to do more to promote women, according to a government report released on Wednesday.

The third annual progress report found women occupy a fifth, or 20.7 percent, of directorships in FTSE 100 companies, up from 12.5 percent in 2011 and within striking distance of a target for women to account for a quarter of board seats by 2015.

But campaigners emphasised that there was still a long way to go as women accounted for only 6.9 percent of senior executive roles in the FTSE 100, where there are only four women chief executives.

Two companies in the FTSE 100, commodities trader Glencore Xstrata and miner Antofagasta, have all-male boards, though they said they were looking for female directors, and 48 FTSE 250 firms have no women on the board.

Former trade minister Mervyn Davies, the leader of the government initiative since 2011, said the figures showed a voluntary drive to boost women around the boardroom table was working and ruled out the need for mandatory quotas such as those introduced in France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands, and planned for Germany.

He said the key to lasting improvement was encouraging companies to drive change from within, not legislation or government intervention that critics argue can lead to tokenism and “trophy directors”.

“This is about changing the culture of corporate Britain, and using a stick is not the best way to do that,” Davies said after launching the report in London. “Everyone now sees that [having more women on boards] is great business sense so the debate is now moving from the boardroom to executive committees.”

He said Britain was leading the way at driving corporate change on a voluntary basis rather than with quotas, which are being introduced in the EU.

But he said companies, public and private, had to step up to the mark and he had written to all companies on the FTSE 350 urging them to find ways to boost female representation.

“Failure would again raise the unwelcome proposal of compulsory measures. British business credibility is at stake and we need to redouble our efforts,” Davies stressed.

Minister for Women Maria Miller said companies needed to be honest that the culture in Britain was not neutral and that it was still “white, male and heterosexual”.

The only FTSE 100 female chief executives are Moya Greene at Royal Mail, Carolyn McCall at easyJet, Angela Ahrendts at Burberry and Alison Cooper at Imperial Tobacco. Capita and Diageo had the highest proportion of women among FTSE 100 boards at 44 percent, followed by Royal Mail, Unilever, and GlaxoSmithKline.

With the spotlight on promoting women, several British banks released targets on gender balance in their annual results for the first time this year.

HSBC aims to have women in 25 percent of senior roles by 2014/15, up from 22.7 percent; Lloyds has a target of 40 percent by 2020 compared with 28 percent now; and Barclays wants 26 percent by 2018, up from 21 percent.

Davies, who was formerly the chief executive of Standard Chartered, said it was “inconceivable in this day and age” to have an all-male board or executive committee. “A company that does not get the mood of society on this issue actually deserves to go out of business.” – Reuters


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