Real progress is being made to increase the number of women on the boards of FTSE 100 companies, a report due out next week will reveal.
Women make up only around 13 per cent of executive directors at the UK's top 100 companies. To help tackle the issue Lord Davies issued a report last year that called for a voluntary target of 30 per cent of all board members to be female by 2015.
The new report, from the International Centre for Women Leaders at Cranfield University, looks at progress made on the issue since Lord Davis published his report. It will show a significant increase in the number of new board-level appointments going to women.
Dr Ruth Sealy, deputy director of the International Centre for Women Leaders at Cranfield University and one of the report's authors, said: “We've seen a significant jump. It's started to happen, there is a tide of change.”
Cranfield has published an annual benchmarking report on the number of female directors at FTSE 100 companies since 1999, and for the first time this year the results appear to be moving in the right direction. At the current rate of change, said Sealy, targets from the Davies report would soon come within reach.
She said that quotas set up in other European countries had put UK companies under real pressure to act. “Because of the financial crisis people are more open to doing things differently, it's a perfect storm,” she added
The report will outline several case studies featuring companies tackling the shortage of female board members and a number of them will be from the engineering and manufacturing sector.
BAE Systems is one such example. Work within the company shows how tackling the issue at board and organisation level can work. Sealy said: “BAE Systems was at the bottom of the list and now it is doing really well. Dick Olver (BAE's chairman) has made a concerted effort – five years ago the board were all white, male and British.”
Another example used in the report will be Rolls Royce. Sealy explained: “It is not in a good place at the moment but attitudes are changing. It has declared that it will set targets.”
Overall, the engineering and manufacturing sector fares well for executive women compared with other sectors. Allan Cook, chairman of engineering firm Atkins, said that 22.5 per cent of the board at Atkins was female. “Our aspirations are to meet the target, but it's not about numbers it's about talent,” he said.
Cook added: “Before we get carried away, there is still a long, long way to go.”
In September, the manufacturers' organisation EEF will launch a report on women in the FTSE 100 manufacturing companies and will highlight the top 50 women to watch in manufacturing.
Dr Palie Smart, reader in corporate responsibility at Cranfield University School of Management, who will be working with EEF to compile the report, said: “There is a renewed interest in manufacturing, the rebalancing of the economy and the study of STEM subjects in schools. This is the right time to be talking about women in manufacturing.”
Currently there are 31 manufacturing companies in the FTSE 100. The average female representation on executive boards is 15 per cent, slightly higher than the 13 per cent average. Three of these 31 companies have no female board members.
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