Women Are Hammering Away At The Glass Ceiling In The UK Despite Quota Threats

The glass ceiling in the UK’s FTSE companies just got a little dented. According to new data, more than a fourth of the new FTSE 100 board positions added in 2011 went to women, bringing the female share of directorships in the group to a record 15.6%. This is an increase from the 12% share level it has been stuck at for the past three years.

This glass ceiling hammering is partly due to a push made by Lord Davies, the former trade minister and erstwhile Standard Chartered PLC   chairman, stepped up last year and called for a minimum of 25% female representation by 2015.  Investment firm CEO Helena Morrissey’s 30 Percent Club has also encouraged companies to employ that many female directors. And these efforts are obviously paying off as nine companies have already achieved that mark, the report showed. Drinks maker Diageo leads the way with 44% of its board of the female persuasion. Retailer Burberry Group  has women holding both the CEO and CFO positions, and media group Pearson which added another female executive director to bring its total to four, rounded out the top three. However, 11 other companies are much more reluctant to bring women on to the executive level. But overall there is clear improvement as 21 companies had no women on the executive level last year.

But the ceiling is hardly shattered. “From our research it is clear that many of the FTSE companies are successful at attracting women at entry level, and developing them and retaining them after maternity leave, but are still spectacularly unsuccessful at promoting them to executive level,” said professor Susan Vinnicombe, co-author of the report. Lord Davies says there is still a lot of work to be done and now there are threats of quotas being implemented in the UK. European countries,including Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain, have been gradually adopting quotas to promote gender equality on boards and members of the EU have been pleased with the results. Last week the EU’s Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding, said that at the current rate it would take more than 40 years for women to hold 40% of board positions in Europe’s publicly traded companies. Reding herself admitted she isn’t a fan of quotas but she does “like the results they bring.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron also threatened quotas unless major companies promote more women to board level, he warned. “The case is overwhelming that companies are run better if we have men and women alongside each other. If we can’t get there in other ways I think we have to have quotas…Women now make up nearly half the workforce across Europe and the majority of university degrees, but they are still not sufficiently represented at the senior boardroom level. The evidence is that there is a positive link between women in leadership and business performance, so if we fail to unlock the potential of women in the labor market, we’re not only failing those individuals, we’re failing our whole economy,” he said in a statement at the Northern Future Forum summit in Stockholm, attended by countries outside the Eurozone.

Hopefully, these numbers from today will help fend off quotas in the UK as well as the fact that Australia is also undergoing a massive overhaul, and its doing it without mandatory quotas. Female directors in Australia only make up 13.8% of the total, but that’s after a significant 3.5 percentage point jump in 2011. This change may have stemmed from a listing requirement by which these companies have to report their overall diversity policies. Plus, England has also already surpassed the U.S., which has seen its level of female representation increase by a mere 0.5% to 12.6% over the past three years. That compares to an 11.1% average among developed-world markets. Basically, this data shows that progress is being made, slowly but surely, without the aid of quotas, which undermine women’s abilities.

Photo: MilsiArt/Shutterstock.com

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