Sign up to myFT Daily Digest to be the first to know about UK companies news.
The drive to get more women on FTSE 100 boards has suffered a further setback, new figures have revealed.
Only 12 per cent of directors appointed in the two months to May 1 are women, down from the 50 per cent rate seen a year ago, according to data to be published on Thursday by the Professional Boards Forum.
That means just four out of 34 new directors are female. The upward momentum had already stalled in the previous six months: the latest figures suggest this may be more than a temporary slowdown.
The findings raise the possibility that a target of 25 per cent female membership of FTSE 100 boards by 2015, set two years ago in a government-commissioned report by Lord Davies, former trade minister, may be missed.
“Headhunters have promised a ‘spring flowering’ of female appointments, but we have yet to see that feed through to announcements,” said Elin Hurvenes, founder of the forum, which helps chairmen find female non-executive directors.
The proportion of women on FTSE 100 boards has been stuck at 17.4 per cent since August, after rising from 12.5 per cent in 2010.
Failure to meet the target might reawaken calls for quotas, which are increasingly being adopted around the world. Vince Cable, Liberal Democrat business secretary, warned recently that quotas were still a “real possibility”, though David Cameron, prime minister, is firmly against them.
All these appointments were to non-executive roles. The proportion of female executive directors in the FTSE 100 is static at 5.6 per cent.
There appears more upward momentum in the FTSE 250, albeit from a lower base: 40 per cent of board appointments in the two months to May 1 have been women. That means 13.8 per cent of directors in the mid-cap index are now female.
Dame Helen Alexander, chairman of media group UBM, said the figures were slightly surprising because there had been no let-up in boards’ focus on the issue.
“Boards and executive teams are starting to realise this is a long, important and hard piece of work, to get women up through the executive ranks, making sure they get on to their company boards and are encouraged to take part in the system of independent non-executive directors,” she said.
Dame Helen said there could be calls for quotas “not only from government, perhaps, but from Europe – and that is one of the reasons why we have to make sure the carrots are working rather than the sticks, because I don’t think there is widespread support at all for quotas”.
Katherine Innes Ker, senior independent director at Go-Ahead, the transport company, said: “There are plenty of women capable and able and available. What we have got to work on is making the discovery process more efficient.”
Catherine Woods, chairman of EBS, part of Allied Irish Banks, said boards needed to be creative in seeking directors from backgrounds such as charities, or who had left companies to set up a business.
Get alerts on UK companies when a new story is published