One year on: Lord Davies reports largest ever annual increase of women on boards

Lord Davies of Abersoch will today publish the first annual progress report on his review of Women on Boards.

One year on, Lord Davies and his review panel have reported a "growing recognition" of the benefits gained by business, the economy and society by appointing more women to decision-making roles.

This understanding is reflected in the "unprecedented pace of change" seen in the make-up of UK boardrooms.

Between 2008 and 2010, the number of women directors had effectively plateaued, stalling at less than a single percentage point rise year-on-year. However, in the twelve months since Lord Davies's report was published, the largest-ever annual increase in the percentage of women on boards has been recorded.

As of the end of February 2012, within the FTSE 100 women now account for 15.6% of all directorships, up from 12.5% last year.

A total of 47 female appointments have been made since publication of the women on boards report last February and 27% of all board appointments have been taken up by women, up from 13%. Just 11 all-male boards remain in the UK, down from 21.

Within the FTSE 250 women account for 9.6% of all directorships, up from 7.8% and 26% of all board appointments have been taken by women.

For the first time ever all-male boards are in the minority, 112 companies, or 44.8%, down from 52.4% and 53 female appointments have been made since publication of the women on boards report last February.

This progress is encouraging considering the long lead times involved between a board position opening up and a new appointment being confirmed.

Cranfield School of Management's Female FTSE report, also published today, notes should current momentum be maintained, a record 26.7% female board representation in FTSE 100 companies would be achieved by 2015.

Amanda Mackenzie, chief marketing and communications officer at Aviva and a member of Lord Davies's review panel, said: ''What has been achieved in year one is hugely encouraging, particularly for a generation of talented women who will form part of the diverse and better boards of the future.

"Year Two is about focussing on developing that pipeline of female executive talent, tackling all male boards and growing the momentum of change.''

The One Year On report tracks current progress against each of Lord Davies' ten original recommendations.

His first recommendation proposed that FTSE 100 boards should aim for a minimum of 25% female representation by 2015. To date, 17 companies in the FTSE 100 have already reached the 25% target and a further 17 are currently between 20% and 25%.

21 FTSE 250 companies have reached the 25% target and a further 28 companies are currently between 20% and 25%.

Over the next year, Lord Davies and his panel will prioritise work towards reaching the 25% target in FTSE 350 companies, and on building a sustainable, credible supply of board-ready women through training and development initiatives.

Lord Davies said: "I believe that we are finally seeing a culture change taking place right at the very heart of British business in relation to how women are seen within the workforce.

"Some excellent work has taken place and I want to take this opportunity to thank the many Chairmen, Chief Executive Officers, business organisations, training providers, networks, journalists and individual business men and women whose commitment to this issue remains unstinting. However, I must also emphasise that efforts need to be ramped up and the speed of change accelerated if we're to avoid Government interference."

Secretary of state for business, Vince Cable added: "Increasing female board representation is a win-win proposition for business. Well-balanced boards with broader experience introduce fresh perspectives and new ideas, which help improve performance and boost productivity.

"This report provides real evidence that business is taking the issue of board diversity seriously and is working to bring about the necessary changes. It demonstrates why we don't think quotas are necessary at the moment as the UK is making the voluntary approach work."

Commenting on the report Charles Elvin, chief executive of the Institute of Leadership & Management, said: "While the continued focus and debate on the number of women in senior positions is a step forward, there needs to be a similar focus at every level of management to address the issue at the heart of the problem - the lack of an effective pipeline for female talent.

"It is concerning to hear that many companies were unable to supply clear information on the women they employ at junior, middle and senior levels. These are precisely the women that could be the next generation of leaders.

"In order to achieve the business benefits of a gender diverse boardroom, companies need to track and report on the number of women employed at different levels, how much they are paid in comparison to men and how long they remain with the organisation. Information such as the retention rates of women returning from career breaks and maternity leave should also be monitored.

"This information can then be incorporated into the organisation's KPIs and included in its annual report. This would mean we then had a much clearer picture of what is actually happening to women in the workplace at all levels.

"If these metrics were to be reported on annually, it would also raise awareness of the issues - a key part of tackling the problem. Then ultimately, the issue at the heart of the problem, the lack of an effective pipeline for female talent, is being addressed and tackled in a much more sustained way."