In its latest report on progress toward gender equality on corporate boards, the British government reports that there is not a single company among the largest group without women on its board.
There are no all-male boards left in the FTSE 100, a marked change from 2011 when there were 21 companies that didn’t have any women on their boards. Progress is not quite as complete in a wider group of companies: there are 23 all-male boards among the FTSE 250, down from 131 four years ago.
Overall, the share of women on FTSE 100 boards has nearly doubled — jumping from 12.5 percent in 2011 to 23.5 percent — and the share of women on the boards of FTSE 250 companies has more than doubled from 7.8 percent to 18.
There is still room for progress, however. There are 59 companies among the FTSE 100 that have boards that are less than a quarter female, and none have reached exact parity — just two have the highest share of women at 45.5 percent. When you expand the net to the the FTSE 250, one company among has achieved a 50/50 split: Electra Private Equity.
The pace of progress has significantly accelerated since 2011, outstripping the progress made in the entire previous decade. The report credits much of the face pace to a voluntary target the government set through the release of the Davies Report, which asked FTSE 100 boards to be 25 percent female by the end of this year, among other goals. “What’s becoming clear, is without the focus of the Davies Review and the support of the many Chairmen, search firms and other businesses, many of these women would not have been appointed to a board position,” the report states. To reach the original target, fewer than 20 women need to be appointed to these companies’ boards in the next nine months.
When the goal was announced, “Many said at the outset that supply would be an issue,” the latest report notes. Companies worried they couldn’t find enough qualified women. “This hasn’t proved to be the case, with 478 newly appointed women to FTSE 350 boards in four years, 192 to the FTSE 100 and a further 286 in the FTSE 250,” it states. And the well of talent is far from dry. “Four years on, there is little evidence that the supply of talented women is diminishing,” it says.
There are other areas where progress is very much lacking. Even with their higher numbers, few women make up executive directors on companies’ boards, or juts 8.6 percent. The rate at which women are being appointed has also slowed to 23.9 percent over the last year. Meanwhile, the number of female CEOs hasn’t budged at all since 2011. “As we approach the 25% target this year,” the report notes, “we will consider…how best to sustain the progress achieved thus far and build on this into the future.”
But the country is making greater strides toward women’s equality in the boardroom than in the United States. Among the S&P; 500, women hold just 19.2 percent of board seats and 18 companies have no women at all. Progress has been stagnant among a different group of companies, the Fortune 500, for eight years.
There is no American target for women’s representation on boards. All that exists is a rule from the Securities and Exchange Commission that requires companies to disclose how they take diversity into account when picking board members. That rule is so vague, however, that companies usually don’t define diversity as having to do with race or gender and some fulfill the obligation but simply saying they don’t consider diversity at all.
Many countries in Europe have gone even further than the U.K., instituting strict quotas that require companies to reach a certain level of gender diversity. It started with Norway in 2008, which now has the highest share of female board members at 35.5 percent, and has since been joined by a number of other countries, the latest of which was Germany.
The success of these rules goes to show that the pipeline of female candidates isn’t dry. And the companies that add more diversity to their boards can look forward to the proven track record of companies with gender-diverse leadership that outperform those with less.