By Peter Crush writing on the CIPDs magazine ‘People Management’:
A near doubling of the number of women in Britain’s boardrooms in just four years has been hailed as a major breakthrough in gender diversity.
Figures published on [25 March] reveal that total female representation on FTSE 100 boards has almost doubled from 12.5 per cent to 23.5 per cent since the first annual report from Lord Davies of Abersoch was published in 2011.
In the same period, the total number of FTSE 100 female senior executives has increased from 19.9 to 21 per cent – a smaller rise, but one still heralded as an important step in the right direction.
In 2011 Lord Davies set voluntary targets for FTSE 100 firms to achieve 25 per cent female representation in the boardroom by 2015. At the time of the report the goals were criticised as overly ambitious. However, the official figures show FTSE 100 firms are now just a whisker away from this.
This is a significant improvement on predictions being made in 2011. These suggested it would take women 70 years to achieve boardroom parity if historic improvement rates stayed the same.
Business Secretary Vince Cable said: “FTSE 100 boards have made enormous progress. We must celebrate this outstanding achievement and the change in culture that is taking hold at the heart of British business.”
According to Cable, the revised improvement rate means the government’s goal of having 30 per cent representation will be met during the next parliament.
He added that the latest figures are evidence that targets, rather than the unpopular idea of compulsory quotas, are the best way forward. He said: “We are confident we will reach our target this year through our voluntary approach. The eyes of the world are on us to achieve gender parity.”
He added: “Evidence shows boards with increased female representation outperform their male-dominated rivals so my long term aspiration is for gender parity on FTSE boards.”
Dianah Worman, diversity adviser for the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, endorsed Cable’s view that quotas are not the way to go. She said: “Voluntary targets are the best way to achieve greater gender diversity, but these must address both executive as well as non-executive roles for women on the board.”
Katja Hall, CBI director general, also argued that the rise in female representation is proof the voluntary approach is working.
But Lady Barbara Judge, who will soon take up her post as the Institute of Director’s first female chair, is unlikely to agree. Speaking as she was formerly appointed as the first woman chair in the body’s 112 year history this week, she is reported to have said she liked the results quotas gave, even though she didn’t necessarily like the theory of them. In an interview with the FT, she also said that sometimes “you have to kick the ball in order for it to go in the right direction”.
But while quotas still divide opinion, there is universal agreement that more can still be done to achieve gender balance on boards. Hall said: “To keep up the momentum businesses must continue to work on building the talent pipeline by supporting more women to take on management roles and helping mothers return to work.”
She added: “The government must allow businesses to take the lead in this agenda, but it can also help by extending free childcare, tackling occupational stereotypes in schools, and promoting the benefits of flexible working.”
Crush, P. (2015) Top Employers a Whisker away from Lord Davies Gender Target. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.cipd.co.uk/pm/peoplemanagement/b/weblog/archive/2015/03/25/top-employers-a-whisker-away-from-lord-davies-gender-target.aspx?utm_medium=email&utm_source=cipd&utm_campaign=cipdupdate&utm_content=010415_1998_1696_20150402062739_Top%20employers%20a%20whisker%20away%20from%20Lord%20Davies%20gender%20target&utm_term=136374. [Accessed: 02 April, 2015].