UK firms accused of hiring female directors for symbolic value

Many FTSE 100 companies are failing to advance women’s boardroom careers, report says


Some of Britain’s biggest companies appear to be recruiting female directors for their symbolic value and then failing to advance their boardroom careers, a report has claimed.


Women make up 32% of FTSE 100 directors – up from 29% a year ago – putting leading companies on track for the government’s target of 33% by 2020, the report by Cranfield University said. But female directors keep their jobs for a shorter time and are less likely to be promoted than men, the report found. Female directors are also older than their male counterparts and disproportionately white.


The average tenure for female executive directors on FTSE 100 boards is 3.3 years, whereas the average for male directors is 6.6. Among non-executives the average woman has served 3.8 years compared with five years for men.


Only 16% of women have been non-executive directors for more than six years. The number of female chief executives in the FTSE held steady at seven, including Emma Walmsley of GlaxoSmithKline and Carolyn McCall at ITV, but the ranks of female chairs dropped to five from seven.


The report said the figures were worrying and raised questions about whether women were choosing to leave earlier than men or being pushed off boards. Companies may also be overlooking older women for non-executive roles, it said.


Sue Vinnicombe, Cranfield’s professor of women and leadership, said: “There has clearly been great progress on the numbers front but scratch beneath the surface and we suggest that some companies have simply been ticking a box.


“There is mounting evidence that women have shorter tenures and are less likely to be promoted into senior roles than their male counterparts.” She called for urgent action to make sure women are appointed on merit and recognised for their contribution.


The government has been pushing boards to recruit more women and members of ethnic minorities to broaden the range of views at the top of Britain’s leading businesses. Several studies have shown that companies with diverse boards are more successful.


The Cranfield report also found only 11% of women on FTSE 100 boards were from black or ethnic minority backgrounds compared with 19.5% in the wider population.


Doyin Atewologun, the report’s co-author, said: “Although it is positive to see more women on boards, we need to be sure that we are not only advancing progress for a certain group of women.”


In the FTSE 100 the proportion of female non-executive directors is at a record high of 38.9% but the report said representation of women among executive directors running the business day-to-day was worryingly low at 10.9%. To hit the government’s target many companies have hired female non-executives, saying it will take longer for women to progress through the ranks of senior managers to board level.


In the FTSE 250 index of mid-sized companies there has been less progress. Women make up 27.3% of FTSE 250 directors, up from 23.7% a year earlier. There are also still three all-male boards, whereas all FTSE 100 boards have a female member. Women make up 32.8% of FTSE 250 non-executives but executive director female representation remains low at 8.4%.