The latest of three British government reports on gender in
boardrooms found women now hold a fifth, or 20.7 percent, of board
positions in FTSE 100 companies, up from 17.3 percent in April 2013
and 12.5 percent in 2011, but short of a 2015 target.
The figures showed women accounted for 6.9 percent of executive
directorships in the FTSE 100 while making up 25.5 percent of
non-executive directorships and their representation on FTSE 250
company boards fell to 15.6 percent.
The report by former trade minister Mervyn Davies comes during a
debate in many countries and the European Union about the pros and
cons of mandatory quotas to boost women numbers at the top. Critics
argue that quotas lead to "trophy directors".
Davies, who left his role as Standard Chartered <STAN.L> chief
executive in 2009 to enter government, oversaw a review into the
lack of women board members in 2011 and set a target to have women
in one quarter of British boardroom seats by 2015.
"The rate of change that we have seen at the heart of our biggest
companies over the last three years has been impressive," said
"However, the eyes of the world are on us as we enter the home
straight. They are judging us as to whether the voluntary approach,
rather than regulation, will work — we need to now prove we can do
this on our own."
QUOTES OR VOLUNTARY?
While countries such as Norway, the Netherlands, and France have
introduced mandatory quotas, Britain and Germany have resisted such
Davies, who returned to the City after the 2010 national election
and sits on several boards himself, stopped short of mandatory
quotas and recommended FTSE 350 companies set their own targets
instead which was welcomed in the corporate world.
Several British banks released targets on gender balance in their
annual results for the first time this year.
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HSBC <HSBC.L> is aiming to have women in 25 percent of senior roles
by 2014/15, up from 22.7 percent; Lloyds <LLOY.L> has a target of 40
percent by 2020 compared to 28 percent now; and Barclays <BARC.L> is
eyeing 26 percent by 2018, up 5 points from now.
Despite the voluntary drive, Britain still lags some countries on
female presence with only four FTSE 100 companies having female
Two FTSE 100 firms, Glencore Xstrata <GLEN.L> and Antofagasta <ANTO.L>,
have no women in the boardroom — although both told Reuters they
were looking for suitable women board members — and there are 48
all-male boards among FTSE 250 companies.
Audrey Williams, partner at global law firm Eversheds, said more
could be done to drive up women numbers at top levels without using
quotas such as sponsoring and mentoring women.
"There is a fear that quotas lead to tokenism and women are not
appointed on merit but the Davies reports have acted as a kind of
catalyst and given organizations more strength of voice to push
forward the agenda," she told Reuters.
(Additional reporting by Steve Slater; editing by Alison Williams)
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