In 2011, Lord Davies published his first report looking at women's representation at board level. At that time, women's representation on FTSE 100 boards was 12.5%. The initial report set a target of double that figure to be reached by the end of 2015. The report chose to rely on achieving this goal by means of a voluntary code rather than by legislative intervention. Some were sceptical that results could be achieved without making change compulsory, and so it is encouraging to see the updated figures as set out in the fourth annual progress report from Lord Davies which was published on 25 March 2015.  

Headline figures to note are:

  • women’s representation on FTSE 100 boards is now 23.5% - almost double the 2011 starting point,
  • the FTSE 100 now has no all-male boards,
  • representation of women on FTSE 250 boards has more than doubled to 18% since 2011, and
  • whilst there remain 23 all-male boards in the FTSE 250, this is down from 131 in 2011 and 48 last year.

Whilst progress is impressive, the report itself notes that there is still work to be done, particularly as regards the number of women holding executive positions and sustainability.

Women executives

Whilst the number of women appointed to executive directorships has increased (from 5.5% in 2011, to 8.6% today), progress is slow. The report notes that there remains much scope for progress here, along with more appointments of women to chairman and senior independent director roles on FTSE boards. It recognises that in order to maintain the substantial talent pool of women board candidates, it is essential to ensure a dual focus on board appointments and the executive pipeline supply. This ties in very much with the second area of concern, sustainability.

Sustainability

The report notes that the 2015 target of 25% was only the beginning. Despite that figure being nearly achieved, however, it also recognises that there are still too few women executive directors, chairmen and senior independent directors being selected. Additionally, it is reported that the appointment rate in FTSE 250 boards has slowed to 23.9% in the last 12 months and there remain 23 all-male boards in the FTSE 350. Added to the concerns about the pipeline of suitable candidates, there is, therefore, still much to do.  As such, the steering group states that it will consider, in collaboration with key stakeholders, how best to sustain the progress achieved thus far and build on this into the future. More particularly, it foresees the following focus for FTSE action in 2015:

  • all FTSE 350 companies currently below target to progress towards 25%,
  • remaining all-male boards to appoint at least one woman to their board in 2015,
  • supporting the appointment of more women chairmen and senior independent directors,
  • FTSE 350 companies to encourage internal initiatives aimed at re-stocking their executive pipeline of women and highlight female talent through sharing case studies/career insights to inspire women further down in their organisations, and
  • FTSE 250 companies to improve disclosures and meaningful reporting on gender diversity.

The steering group will report on progress against these action points later this year.

Comment

Whilst progress in reaching the 25% target is impressive, and more particularly so given that this has been achieved without legislative intervention, the crucial issue of maintaining the figures, not to mention continuing to improve them, remains. Whilst the report refers in passing to initiatives taken by some companies to address the issue of sustainability, not much detail is provided. As concerns about the need for an interventionist approach persist, not least at the EU level, the UK's ability to deliver a sustainable means for achieving increased representation of women on boards, and, importantly, at an executive level, will be crucial.