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Women "hugely outnumbered" on boards

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Fewer than half (47%) of companies have actually increased their female board representation

Women remain hugely outnumbered on individual company boards and particularly in executive director roles, according to a report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

The inquiry examined board-level recruitment and appointment practices in FTSE 350 companies, reanalysing data from the Davies Report of women on boards. Fewer than half (47%) actually increased their female board representation over the 2012/13 to 2013/14 period, while 46% of boards either remained the same or even decreased the proportion of women.

For almost a third (31%) of those companies that increased the number of women on their boards it was a case of overall board size being reduced, rather than more women being appointed.

Nearly a third of companies (32%) reported heavy reliance on the personal networks of current and recent board members to identify new candidates, suggesting that ‘old boys'’ networks are still prevalent. The diversity of applicants is also being limited by virtually no open advertising of board roles; just 2% of companies publicised non-executive roles on their websites, in newspapers or on social media.

Laura Carstensen, an equality and human rights commissioner, said that despite “welcome progress and vital work by Lord Davies” top boards still remain largely male and white, with “inexcusable and unacceptable discrepancies” between companies.

"The good work of a forward-thinking minority masks that many top businesses are still only paying lip service to improving the representation of women on boards,” she added. “The recruitment process to the boards of Britain's top companies remains shadowy and opaque and is acting as a barrier to unleashing female talent. Our inquiry calls for more open, fair and transparent recruitment to tackle an alarming disparity in performance across the FTSE 350.”

These findings come in the wake of a Women and Equalities Select Committee report, Gender Pay Gap Report – Government failing to take action to reduce gender pay gap, which found that although the gender pay gap has fallen significantly from 27.5% when it was first measured in 1997 over the past four years it has plateaued at just under 20%.

The report, by a cross-party committee of MPs, highlights a lack of effective policy in many areas. It found that the key causes of pay differentials are: the part-time pay penalty; women’s disproportionate responsibility for childcare and other forms of unpaid caring; and the concentration of women in highly feminised, low-paid sectors such as social care, retail and cleaning.

Maria Miller, MP and chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, said that the situation will not change unless the government changes its policies. “The pay gap represents a massive loss to the UK’s economy and we must address it in the face of an ageing workforce, a skills crisis, and the need for a more competitive economy,” she said.