Women still minority in UK boardrooms

Karren Brady West Ham's vice chairman Karren Brady is a rare woman at the top of business

Women remain a minority in UK boardrooms, according to research by a recruitment company.

In the top 100 public companies, women made up 12.6% of executive directors, little changed from last year's 12.2%.

Taking into account all 600 companies quoted on the London stock exchange, the figure falls to just 5%.

The findings, from headhunters Egon Zehnder, come as the US prepares to introduce boardroom quotas for women and ethnic minorities.

The US is finalising the Dodd-Frank Bill, a sweeping range of financial reforms that also contain a provision for firms to meet ratios on gender and race.

Section 342 of the Bill, which, if passed on Thursday, could face its final vote on Saturday, requires federal agencies involved in regulating financial institutions to set up a new Office of Minority and Women Inclusion (OMWI).

Each of those offices must try to promote "racial, ethnic and gender diversity".

Under-represented

A UK Treasury Committee report earlier this year highlighted the lack of women in senior positions in the financial services sector.

Women make up 44% of employees in the banking, finance and insurance sector, but are significantly under-represented at senior levels throughout the financial services.

It stopped short of saying more women on boards would have lessened the impact of the finance crisis, as some of its witnesses had maintained.

But it concluded that "not wasting a large proportion of talent seems more than sufficient to conclude that increased gender diversity is desirable".

The government this week responded to the Committee's findings, pledging to ensure that talented women were not being denied the opportunity to contribute to business and commercial decision-making.

Quotas

The UK has so far not proposed quotas to ensure better female representation at boardroom level.

But Egon Zehnder's managing partner in London, Andrew Roscoe, said other countries' insistence on affirmative action could have an impact in the UK.

"There may not be enough senior women in other markets to meet quotas and the risk is that a limited pool of female talent in the UK will be targeted, making it harder to achieve a better balance in Britain's boardrooms."

Norway has legislation ensuring women make up at least 40% of company boards.

Egon Zehnder said that with other governments across Europe - notably in Spain, France and Germany - also looking at affirmative action to speed the pace of change.

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