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Number of women on boards of top UK companies increases

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A report by Cranfield School of Management shows a ‘step change’ from previous years in the number of female-held directorships in FTSE-listed companies; there were 163 women directors (15%) in companies on the FTSE 100 Index compared with 131 (12%) in 2009. This is against a background of national and European calls to increase the proportion of female directors by 2015. Despite the positive response by companies, it is uncertain whether the 2015 targets will be reached.


In March 2012, the Cranfield International Centre for Women Leaders at Cranfield School of Management published the 13th female FTSE board report (3.67Mb PDF). In the UK context, the report comes one year after the publication of a report by Lord Mervyn Davies, Women on boards (1.92Mb PDF), which recommends that:

  • chairs of companies on the Financial Times Stock Exchange (FTSE) 350 index (that is, the largest 350 companies in the UK by market capitalisation) should set a target for the percentage of women on their boards for 2013 and 2015;
  • FTSE 100 index companies (that is, the largest 100 companies by market capitalisation) should aim for a minimum of 25% female representation by 2015;
  • companies should disclose, monitor and set targets for female representation on the board and in senior executive roles each year.

Extensive European-level debate continues on the issue of gender-imbalance in the boardroom. The European Commission is in the process of consulting stakeholders to help inform an assessment of possible EU-level measures to enhance female participation in economic decision-making (EU1203021I). In July 2011, the European Parliament called for a binding minimum quota for women’s representation on company boards of 30% by 2015 and 40% by 2020 (EU1109021I), targets that are more demanding than the recommendations in the Davies Report.


The Cranfield research covers companies from the FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 index as at 10 January 2012 (the largest 100 and 250 companies by market capitalisation respectively as listed on the London Stock Exchange on that date). The composition of boards for the period between January 2011 and January 2012 was examined using a combination of sources including the BoardEx database, annual company reports and corporate websites.

More female directors in FTSE 100 companies

A key finding of the Cranfield report is the significant, positive movement in the percentage of women on boards in the UK (Table 1). The year preceding the census of boards in January 2012 showed a step-change in the number of female directors – a departure from a decade of only incremental increases.

As at January 2012, 163 women held directorships in FTSE 100 companies, meaning that the proportion of women on boards has risen from 12.2% (2009) to 15% in 2012. In the same period this corresponds to a small increase in the number of female executive directors from 17 (5.2% of executive directors) in 2009 to 20 (6.6% of executive directors) in 2012. A greater increase was seen in the number of female non-executive directors (NEDs) from 114 (15.2%) in 2009 to 143 (22.4%) in 2012.

The number of companies with at least one female director on their board increased from 75 in 2009 to 89 in 2012. Since 2009, the number of companies with no female directors fell from 25% to 11% in 2012.

Table 1: Female directors in FTSE 100 companies

Female FTSE 100




Female-held directorships

163 (15%)

135 (12.5%)

131 (12.2%)

Female executive directorships

20 (6.6%)

18 (5.5%)

17 (5.2%)

Female NEDs

143 (22.4%)

117 (15.6%)

114 (15.2%)

Companies with female executive directors




Companies with at least one female director




Companies with multiple female directors




Companies with no female directors




Note: * Covers the 15-month period to January 2012.

Source: Sealy and Vinnicombe (2012, Table 1)

Women holding multiple directorships

Following the introduction of a legally enforced quota for female representation on boards in Norway (NO0801029I), there was concern that so-called ‘golden skirts’ phenomenon – women holding multiple non-executive positions – could reduce the effectiveness of such legislation. In this scenario the number of female directorships is increased but is not paralleled by an increase in the number of women at board level.

The Cranfield report reveals that, as with Norway, the percentage of women board members holding multiple directorships is similar to the percentages among male board members (Table 2) and these proportions have not changed in response to the recent increase in female directorships.

Table 2: Multiple directorships held by male and female board members, 2012

FTSE 100 boards


Number of seats





Male directors


88.7% (727)

10.1% (83)

1.2% (10)


Female directors


85.8% (121)

12.8% (18)

1.4% (2)


Source: Sealy and Vinnicombe (2012, Table 4)

Targets and new appointments

Lord Davies recommended that FTSE 100 companies should have 25% female board members by 2015. However, to achieve 23.5% of directors, women would have to make up a third of new appointees each year between 2011 and 2015.

There was a significant change in 2011–2012 compared with previous years in the number of women being appointed to board level (Table 3). Although this is short of the target set by the Davies Report, the fact that almost a quarter of new appointments were female shows a positive step-change and breaks a decade-long trend of incremental adjustment in the composition of boards.

Table 3: New appointments

Female FTSE 100





New female appointments





New male appointments





Total new appointments





Female % of new appointments





Source: Sealy and Vinnicombe (2012, Table 6)


The Female FTSE Board Report 2012 shows that women occupy more directorships and a larger share of new appointments than ever before. However, significant change is still needed to meet the recommended targets set by both the Davies Report and the European Parliament. However, the Cranfield report does show positive and significant progress in female representation on company boards, breaking a decade-long trend of incremental change.


Davies, E.M. (2011), Women on boards (1.92Mb PDF), Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, London.

Sealy, R. and Vinnicombe, S. (2012), The female FTSE board report 2012: Milestone or millstone? (3.67Mb PDF), Cranfield School of Management, Cranfield.

Alex Wilson, IRRU, University of Warwick

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