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Number of female FTSE 100 board members increases by 4% since 2011

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The number of women in the boardrooms of the UK’s top companies has increased in the past year, business secretary Vince Cable has said.

This week marks the first year anniversary of the voluntary code of conduct for executive search firms. The code, developed by members of the industry in direct response to Lord Davies' review into 'Women on Boards', sets out seven key principles of best practice for executive search firms to abide by throughout the recruitment process.

Since Lord Davies' review and subsequent report, the number of women appointed to the boards of the UK's top companies has reached unprecedented levels, with women now making up 16.7% of FTSE 100, and 10.9% of FTSE 250 boards, up from 12.5% and 7.8% respectively in 2010.

Since March of this year women have made up 44% of newly appointed FTSE 100 board directors and 40% of those in the FTSE 250.

The Executive Search Firms Code of Conduct, which requires 30% female long-lists and encourages firms to expand their traditional search avenues, has been welcomed by Executive Search Firms, Chairs and Candidates.

Cable, said: "The progress we have seen in the past year proves that the UK's business-led approach to achieving boardroom diversity is working. The Voluntary Code of Conduct has played a key part in this progress. "Diverse boards are better boards: benefiting from fresh perspectives, talent, new ideas and broader experience which enables businesses to better reflect and respond to the needs of their customers. This is good for women, good for companies who need to be the best they can be in order to compete in today's tough global market place, and ultimately good for the UK economy as a whole. It is essential that Executive Search Firms and Chairmen continue to use the Code to increase this rate of change".

Davies added: "I am very pleased to see the progress that has been made over the past year, and since the Code of Conduct was launched. "I welcome the continued efforts and collaborations of Executive Search Firms and business groups to ensure that we see a sustainable and consistent change and that talent is recognised regardless of gender." Over the last year Executive Search Firms have seen a continued culture shift amongst their clients, who are increasingly open to considering a wider range of female candidates and are placing a strong priority on appointing qualified women.

Audrey Williams, partner and head of discrimination law at international law firm Eversheds, said: "The Government will be hoping these latest figures stave off pressure from the European Parliament to introduce EU-wide laws setting binding quotas for women on company boards, a move which Vince Cable has said he would oppose. Back in March the EU Parliament urged European Commissioners to introduce new laws in this area. Although the Commission has not yet come out in favour of binding quotas, it hasn't ruled them out either. The impression given by the Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding, is that patience is wearing thin in Brussels but that if companies can demonstrate real and lasting progress through voluntary means they may yet avoid having new legislation imposed on them. FTSE companies are moving in the right direction and now need to maintain the momentum they have built up."