Gender diversity in the boardrooms of the 350 biggest listed UK companies has just risen to an all-time high, according to the fifth annual Davies review, published yesterday.
But it’s not all good news — the number of female non-executives in the top 100 listed firms could drop by 5% in the next 18 months if the spotlight doesn’t stay on the issue, according to new research.
Audeliss, an executive search company, just released some data that could be pretty worrying for those campaigning to increase gender equality in the boardroom.
The research shows that in the FTSE100, 31% of non-executive directors are female, but that by April 2017 the percentage of female non-execs will fall to 26%. Audeliss puts this figure down to the current trend of directors stepping down at the end of their term, or not having their terms renewed.
Saki Sandhu, Audeliss’ CEO said “As the Government spotlight from Lord Davies dims, there is a very real danger that companies could go into reverse gear in terms of their boardroom diversity. Ongoing pressure is needed to sustain and improve on today’s position.”
She added “The data suggests that today’s female NEDs (non-executive directors) only average 5.5 years tenure, which means that we are fast approaching a period when many of the current leaders will stand down.”
Audeliss’ research also suggests that there is a big lack of up-and-coming talent in terms of female leaders. It cites the low percentages of female executives on FTSE boards as evidence of this. In the FTSE 100 women make up only 25 of the 267 executives, around 9%. In the FTSE 250 and 350, women are even less well represented, making up just 5 and 7% of executives respectively.
“The question now is ‘who will replace them?’. The female executive pipeline of talent is simply too slim to sustain the progress of the last five years.” “We need companies to focus on nurturing the next generation of female talent with executive leadership programmes and by allowing more flexible working arrangements and other family-friendly policies.” Sandhu said.
Audeliss released its research ahead of Thursday’s final Women on Boards review. The review, led by Lord Mervyn Davies published its final findings and they show that since 2011, the number women in all positions on the boards of FTSE100 companies has risen from 12.5% to an all time high of 26%. This surpasses the initial target of 25% set by Lord Davies in 2011.
Whilst Audeliss provided figures for only non-executive directors, the Davies report includes executive directors, reflecting the lower number.
Lord Davies argues that there is much still to be done, even though the 26% figure marks a “major milestone.” The new report sets out a new target of 33% female board members by 2020.
On Thursday morning, Davies was asked by the BBC’s Today programme why so few female board members are executives. “The focus of our work was on fixing the boardroom. We’ve done that and there’s very few all-male boards left … We now need to see the same change, through a voluntary approach, in the executive committee structure of big companies and small companies.” he said.