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Push to get more women onto company boards is failing

A drive to get more female representation onto FTSE 100 and FTSE250 boards has stalled, a report from Cranfield School of Management has found.

After a period of steady growth complacency may be setting in when it comes to improving the number of women on the boards of the UK's top companies.

The latest report from the Cranfield International Centre for Women Leaders shows that in the first six months since the last report (March 2012), the pace of change was extremely encouraging with 44% of new FTSE 100 board appointments going to women and 36% on FTSE 250 companies.

However, those high levels were short-lived and over the past six months they have dropped to 26% and 29% respectively, showing a considerable gap from the 33% required to reach Lord Davies' recommendation of 25% women on boards by 2015.

Despite the period of stagnation the CBI has warned against introducing quotas, which have been pushed by EU commissioner Viviane Reding. It said they would lead to "tokenistic" appointments. "These figures show if we are to remove blockages in the pipeline of female talent development, business leaders must roll up their sleeves and redouble their efforts to improve recruitment, mentoring and succession planning", said Sir Roger Carr, president of the CBI.

He added: "Tokenistic EU quotas will do nothing to address the root causes of this issue. It is critical we nurture a diverse talent base right from the bottom to the top of our companies to hone our competitive edge."

The report found there are now 194 female-held directorships in 93 of the FTSE 100 boardrooms (held by 169 women), which equates to 17.3%, a slight increase on last year's figure of 15%. The number of FTSE 100 companies with all-male boards has now dropped to seven and two thirds (67%) of the FTSE 100 have more than one woman on their board.

In his 2012 review on women on boards, Lord Davies recommended that 25% of boardroom places should be held by women by 2015. And the authors of the report have predicted that if the FTSE100 companies regain the momentum they achieved in the first half of last year, with one third of all new appointments going to women, then the target of 25% will be met.

HR director at Telefonica, Ann Pickering said: "Sustainable, long-term boardroom diversity will only be achieved if employers also focus on supporting women at the very start of their careers, not just at senior management level, to create a pipeline of talent.

"Whether it's through offering mentoring, training or even flexible working, businesses have a responsibility to inspire and support all of their people to achieve their potential regardless of the stage of their career," she added.

The report does reveal positive signs from the FTSE 250 companies with 13.3% women on boards (up from 9.4%). Some 73% (183 companies) now have women in their boardrooms, a substantial increase from last year's figure of 54%.

The 2013 report confirms that the executive pipeline remains a challenge, particularly for executive director positions. Women currently hold 21.8% of FTSE 100 non-executive directorships and only 5.8% of executive Directorships. While in the FTSE 250, women hold 16.6% of Non-Executive and only 5.4% of executive directorships. This means there are only 18 female FTSE 100 executive directors compared to 292 males, and just 32 female FTSE 250 executive directors compared to 558 males.

Further analysis shows a worrying drop in the number of women on FTSE 100 executive committees, from 18.1% (in 2009) to 15.3% today. "It is therefore not surprising that no progress is being made in the number of women holding executive directorships," said co-author of the report Susan Vinnicombe.

She went on to say: "Despite women dominating the fields of human resources, law and marketing, this is not reflected at executive director level, where the positions are still going to men, who are being promoted internally over experienced female candidates."

Business secretary, Vince Cable has written to 27% of FTSE250 firms with all-male boards warning them to speed up their appointment of women. "This is not just about gender equality, but about improving the performance and productivity of companies," he said.

Charles Elvin, chief executive of the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) said: "In order to remain on track to reach Lord Davies' recommendation of 25%, organisations need to address cultural barriers head on as well as ensuring targeted development at every organisational level to create an effective talent pipeline of senior women ready to excel in board level positions."