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More women on top company boards

The number of women directors on top company boards has increased to a record 15% but is still well down on a target of 25% set by a government-commissioned review, new research has revealed.

An annual study of boardroom gender by the Cranfield School of Management said there had been a "significant move in the right direction" since publication of a report by Lord Davies a year ago.

The former Labour minister and ex-chairman of Standard Charter recommended that companies in the FTSE 100 should have 25% female board membership by 2015.

The figure was just 6.9% in 1999 and stayed at 12% in recent years but now stands at 15.6%, said Cranfield - adding that it could rise to 26.7% by 2015 and 36.9% by 2020, exceeding the Davies target. There are now 141 women holding 163 board seats in FTSE 100 firms, while the number of companies with no women board members has fallen to 11.

Professor Susan Vinnicombe, co-author of the report, said: "The past 12 months have seen a significant amount of global activity around diversifying boards. After a decade of incremental increases in the UK, we are pleased to be reporting improvements that are more substantive."

Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities Theresa May said: "I'm delighted by this unprecedented progress. While there's still much to be done, today we should celebrate just how far we have come. It is particularly encouraging that this progress has been led by businesses.

Mrs May warned that quotas "can often offer a short cut or a quick fix to increase female representation", adding: "But, as today's reports shows, significant progress can be made through a business-led approach.

"But, as a woman, I've never wanted to get anywhere because I was part of a quota. I've wanted to get there because I'd worked hard for a job and because I deserved it."

Lord Davies said: "Over the last year some excellent progress has been made. We've seen a significant increase in the percentage of female board appointments and the number of all-male boards has halved. I believe we're on a steady journey towards our 25% target, but the reality is that a lot more still needs to be done.

"We've got to keep up the pressure on business - particularly on FTSE 250 companies, and at the same time chief executives must try and improve the gender balance of their executive committees, because this isn't just about equality, it's about performance. The simple fact is that the more diverse your team, the better it performs."

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