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Stalling on #WOB And In #Business : UK plc Boardrooms

Posted on March 6, 2013 at 12:05 AM

It's a real problem, getting overly excited at the first hint of spring after a grim winter. And so it goes with 'women on boards' in the UK as well.

The Professional Boards Forum's BoardWatch figures, just out, suggest that progress has slowed in terms of women going on FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 boards. 

In FTSE 100, 34% of all new appointments since March 2012 have gone to women - and judging by yesterday's blog post about the research from The Ashton Partnership - this means that many of those boards now benefit from a wider range of background and perspective. But to meet the target set by Lord Davies, we need 86 more female board appointments.

Some 27 FTSE 100 companies now have 25% female directors, and eight of them exceed the target by having 30% or more - with Burberry (38%) and Diageo(36%) leading the way. 

As for FTSE 250, it's a pretty sad picture. There are 67 all-male boards (27%) and just 32 - or 13% - of companies have reached 25% female representation, with 13 at 30% or above. Clear leaders are Alliance Trust and Electra Private Equity, both at 50%.

Do we really need to name the companies that seem to 'get it'? Yes, I think we do. 

Jane Scott, who compiles BoardWatch, says : "Overall, 2012 showed good progress....but the very latest data reveals a plateau in the last quatrter, where the rapid growth seems to have fizzled out, we hope temporarily. This is the first reversal since the Davies report came out in 2011."

There have been many accusations recently of the 'short-termism' that seems endemic to British business, from many corners including the great and the good. Dragging its feet on this issue looks like confirmation of a business desire to cling to the old, whatever the economic future cost. 

Readers of this blog know that I have long despaired at the way the question of headhunters was handled by Lord Davies - and the seeming refusal to alter their particular status quo and continue to protect an unregulated industry, with charges a huge cost to business, is dominated in reality by the few, with a strange coincidental tendency to have gone to the same universities as the chairmen who employed them....year after year. That lovely word headhunters worship : "preferred supplier."

(Why is it exactly - apart from presumably being good at what they do - that Anna Mann and Tracy Long have dominated boardroom evaluation at FTSE 100 level, for example....and why is that headhunters are allowed to place candidates and then evaluate them as well....or vice-versa ie do the search and then do the evaluation ? At least both those individuals have both managed now nearly to exhaust their corporate universe and may often be conflicted, and one hears of new headhunters and evaluators being used......generational change again....)

There is also a new trend in hiring, outlined today in the FT : Executive heads hunted by new tribes  which you can read here if you have access to FT.com. Among other things, Andrew Hill talks about the use of LinkedIn for the purposes of hiring (and it's good to see someone else being rude about headhunters for a change).

I would be very surprised if senior boardroom searches in this country were completed in this manner, as the 'old school tie'  - sorry, I mean the networks - are just too important. (And I speak as someone who went to a couple of those universities so I'm not green with envy). But the very ease of 'connectedness' is going to make a huge difference, if not quickly enough.

In the meantime, I encourage you to be concerned about this 'stall' in progress on women in the boardroom, and what it means beyond women, because it's a 'stall' for business.

Latest BoardWatch update here. 

Categories: Women, Appointments, Representation