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A year ago today

Annie Peate

13 March 2012

A year ago today, Lord Davies published ‘Women on Boards’ calling for all FTSE company boards to increase their female representation to a minimum of 25% by 2015. At the time the report received equal measure of praise and criticism for stopping short of introducing the legally binding quotas introduced by a number of the UK’s European counterparts, and instead opting for voluntary-led change. Indeed, this highly controversial decision has been the subject of many publicly fought debates amongst high profile individuals from the world of business, policy and even broadcasting. Most recently, European Vice-President Viviane Reading launched a consultation into imposing EU-wise quotas, proposing to increase Lord Davies’ 2015 target to 30%.

Today BIS published their first annual progress report, appearing to silence critics for the first time in many months with news that by the end of last month (February 2012), 15.6% of all directorships in FTSE 100 companies are held by women –up from last year’s 12.5%. This increase has also been successfully replicated (although to a lesser degree) in FTSE 250 companies with women now accounting for 9.6% of all directorships, up on last year’s 7.8%.

Moreover, alongside then widely anticipated recommendations which closely mirror last year’s list (greater accountability, transparency etc) Women on Boards: One Year On endorses a more innovative approach to sourcing and recruiting women for board positions, including seeking out female entrepreneurs, academics as well as civil servants.

This is all really promising news, and it’s important we recognise this rate of progress. However, the importance now lies in ensuring this rate of progress is maintained, even surpassed, in the years to come. With many private sector organisations voluntarily implementing gender diversity initiatives, the future looks bright.

But can the same be said of the public sector, given the potential impact of the cuts on overall female employment in the sector? With women constituting a mere third third of all new appointments to public boards (and with Lord Davies calling for this proportion to rise to 50%) coupled with the impact of the forthcoming changes to the welfare system and rising costs of childcare, there is a real danger that there simply may not be the women to choose from.