Women now form 51% of the UK population and 46% of the economically active workforce; they are responsible for the bulk of consumer buying decisions and consistently outperform their male counterparts educationally. However, research from Cranfield University has highlighted a lack of female directors in Britain’s top businesses, with women making up only 12.2% of directors of the FTSE 100 companies in 2009. The FTSE 250 companies have an even lower proportion of female directors at 7.3%, and nearly half of them do not have any women in the boardroom.
While UK boards must be meritocratic, the low proportion of women holding directorships suggests British business is not using all of the skills and talents of the workforce effectively and women are being denied the opportunity to reach their true potential and contribute fully to the UK economy.
The business case for increasing the number of women on boards is clear. Evidence suggests that companies with a strong female representation at board and top management level perform better than those without and that gender diverse boards have a positive impact on performance, being better able to understand their customers and stakeholders and benefit from fresh perspectives, new ideas, vigorous challenge and broad experience which in turn lead to better decision making.
This is as much about business performance as about promoting equal opportunities for women, Government is committed to seeing swift change in this area and pledged in the Coalition Agreement that “we will look to promote gender equality on the boards of listed companies.”
Lord Davies of Abersoch is currently leading a review on behalf of Government into the obstacles that prevent more women from reaching senior positions in business. His recommendations will be developed into a business strategy which will be published in February 2011.
The Call for Evidence will close on 30 November and is seeking views from across the business world, with the emphasis on finding solutions that will break down these barriers.