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Companies still broadly ignoring Davies' women on boards recommendations, report finds

Out-Law News | 17 Oct 2011 | 9:16 am | 2 min. read

Most of the UK's leading companies have yet to comply with a recommendation to set targets for increasing the number of women on their boards, according to a recent report.

In a progress report (42-page / 8MB PDF) published six months after Lord Davies' review of boardroom inequality, Cranfield School of Management found that only 33 of the FTSE 100 leading companies have so far published targets to raise the number of female directors. Of those 33 companies, only 10 have set a goal for an increase of more than 10 percentage points, the report found.

However the researchers also found some "very encouraging signs" that the appointment process was beginning to open up to new women, the school said.

In February Lord Davies recommended that the chairmen of the FTSE 350 leading companies by share capital set out the percentage of women they aim to have on their boards in 2013 and 2015, with the top 100 companies aiming for at least 25% female representation by 2015.

Only 21 women have been appointed to fill a possible 93 board positions since Davies' review, the Cranfield report said. The number of women now holding FTSE 100 board directorships is 155 out of a total of 1,092 positions.

In August Martin Webster of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, analysed announcements from the UK's 100 leading companies to see how many of them had made their intentions public. He found that only eight of those companies had said that they intended to meet the target, although a further 12 companies had already met or exceeded the commitment without making any formal announcement.

He said that although the Cranfield figures seemed "disappointing", they did not tell the full story.

"Of more interest are the programmes some companies are putting in place to promote and encourage women through the ranks to senior executive roles. Mentoring, sponsorship and positive programmes aimed at women will do much to stem the waste of female talent, as Davies has acknowledged," he said.

The Cranfield report also examined appointments in the FTSE 250. 28 out of a possible 158 appointments had gone to women since the review was published, the report said. For the first time, it was a minority of FTSE 250 companies which had all-male boards, as women held positions on 133 boards.

Although Lloyds Banking Group and Rolls Royce were highlighted among the FTSE 100 for "boldly" aiming to increase posts held by women by 20-23% Dr Ruth Sealy, who co-authored the report, commented that few of the leading companies were "stretching".

"The aim of targets is for companies to self-determine what is reasonably achievable within a given timeframe, and to hold themselves accountable for their stated goals," she said.

"The results from our report suggest the recommendations in Lord Davies' review have had beneficial effects in terms of reinforcing good practice, but they also demonstrate an institutional inertia whereby companies persist in their existing approach (or lack thereof) to gender diversity on boards."

Lord Davies said the report was "very important in providing evidence and a fact base that the market can reflect on".