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Leading UK companies get stay of execution over equality for female directors

Major companies are expected to be given two years to increase the number of women in boardrooms before tougher measures are considered.

According to reports this week, an inquiry headed by Lord Davies, former trade minister and ex-Standard Chartered chief executive, has concluded that FTSE 100 companies should not yet face quotas forcing them to break the glass ceiling.

He is understood to have told the government that companies should have extra time to make changes themselves first.

Lord Davies was asked by prime minister David Cameron to review the barriers preventing more women reaching the top of the corporate world.

The report is expected to recommend that companies should be set targets for increasing boardroom representation and produce regular updates on progress and suggests institutional shareholders and organisations such as The Financial Reporting Council should be more closely involved to maintain the pressure.

The percentage of women in board posts in FTSE 100 companies has almost doubled from 6.9 per cent to 12.5 per cent over the past decade with 79 of them having at least one female director. The number of companies with female executive director posts has only edged up from 12 to 16 over the period.

It is hoped that the report will get a more serious reaction than the comments last week by the head of Germany’s Deutsche Bank Josef Ackerman, who said he would welcome more women on the executive board because it would make it ‘prettier and more colourful’.

Angela O’ Connor is Chief People Officer for the National Policing Improvement Agency and also an HR Business Network member.

She said: “I am disappointed that despite women making up half of the population  and half of university graduates that they still remain severely under-represented at board level. Organisations are missing out by not utilising the talents of women to drive business success.

“More and more women are choosing to become entrepreneurs  and are setting up their own businesses so there seems to be something about corporate organisations  not proving to be as attractive as they could be.

 “Although I feel very uncomfortable about quotas there are examples of success notably in Australia when businesses have been given encouragement to recruit more women to their boards. I am pleased that the CBI approach to this subject is a flexible one, however, I do believe businesses must be held to account if they do not make significant progress in this area in the next year.

“At a time when our economy needs all the help it can get , it seems foolish for organisations to limit their access to great thinking by keeping women out of the board room.”

What do you think?

Is Lord Davies right to give companies another chance? Or do you side with pressure groups who are calling for more radical changes and a wider examination of gender issues throughout company hierarchies? How many female executive directors are in your organisation? Is it getting better or worse?

Tell us in the comments