Listed firms are being urged to focus on female executive representation and build their female talent pipelines as women on boards progress slows.
At the launch of the Cranfield University The Female FTSE Board Report 2016, hosted at KPMG's London premises, GSK chair Philip Hampton said the "women on boards debate [had] become a non-executive phenomenon" and called on companies to "focus [their] efforts on the pipeline". Hampton is currently leading a review into senior female representation in the FTSE 350.
The latest Cranfield report found that the percentage of women on FTSE 100 boards has reached 26%, but that progress has slowed since the final Davies report in October last year.
It also revealed that only 9.7% of executive directorships are held by women in the FTSE 100, and that this falls to 5.6% in the FTSE 250. There are still 15 boards in the FTSE 250 without any female representation; including Paysafe, Euromoney Institutional Investor and Hastings Group Holdings.
Speaking at the event, City University London's professor of organisational psychology and report co-author Ruth Sealy said female executive representation in the FTSE is still "staggeringly low" and an "underuse of talent in our country".
She also said progress has "stagnated" and that the number of new board roles being given to women has fallen "dramatically" in recent months.
To achieve the 33% target for women on boards in the FTSE 350 by 2020, as announced by Lord Davies in October, Sealy said boards need to increase their female representation by 11 percentage points in four years. "It sounds like a lot, but it's achievable if we are proactive," she added.
Sealy's co-author Elena Doldor, a lecturer in organisational behaviour at Queen Mary University, explained that to achieve this target businesses must focus on their executive pipelines, and warned that executive committees look "far less healthy" than boards when it comes to gender diversity. The report states that women only make up 19.4% of FTSE 100 executive committees.
Doldor advised the use of targets to change this, and Hampton said his review would be announcing targets for FTSE 350 executive roles once a baseline has been agreed on. Doldor said targets work because they "provide clarity and a disciplined approach to change" and "frame diversity as a culture change and create lines of accountability".
"This is a systemic problem and requires a systemic approach," she added. "Fix the culture, not the women."
Secretary of state for education and minister for women and equalities Nicky Morgan said now is not the time to stop pushing for gender equality in business, even with the 25% target for women on boards exceeded. "We have to be bold enough to call out the sections of the business community that aren't doing their bit," she said. "We must call out the equality cynics."
But, she added, most "businesses no longer talk about why we need more women on boards, but about how they can make that happen".