The 2012/12/10 at 08:07
Stéphanie Salti, in London
“Having more women on boards has nothing to do with political correctness,” exclaimed Vince Cable, Business Secretary on 30 November at the London Stock Exchange, on the occasion of the publication of the latest figures on female representation in British boards. Presented under the aegis of the 30 % Club which supports the promotion of women to the highest company roles, the latest statistics send out mixed signals. In March 2011, the Davies Report, named after the former minister in charge of taking stock of the issue, recommended that the boards of the 100 biggest indexed British companies be made of at least 25 % women by 2015, compared with 12 % at the time.
One and a half years down the track, significant progress has been made: women now represent 17.4 % of positions in the boards of companies indexed on the FTSE 100 and 12 % for those on the FTSE 250 comprising the 250 biggest listed British companies. “Even more significantly, women represented 44 % of all recruitments in FTSE 100 companies in the last six months and 36 % in FTSE 250 companies,” continued Vince Cable in his speech. At the same time, Vince Cable has identified eight companies whose board positions are held by men only: Antofagasta, Croda, Glencore Xstrata – the former two are in the process of merging – Kazakhmys, Melrose, Randgold and Vedanta. All these are companies listed on the London Stock Exchange but whose head offices are located overseas. The activities of this group of companies largely focus on mining and energy resources. Vince Cable has committed to individually contacting these businesses to request that they encourage the presence of women in their boards? “If you list in London there are certain obligations in terms of governance that go with that,” the Business Secretary highlighted.
Vince Cable has also asked that recruitment companies entrusted with the task of finding candidates for boards publish the number of men and women they place in the highest company functions. For while progress has been made in the last 18 months, a certain number of areas still need work. The number of full-time female executive directors, compared with that of independent directors, has only varied slightly, stagnating around 6.7 % for all FTSE 100 companies. Sir Win Bischoff, Chairman of the partially nationalised Lloyds Banking Group, further pointed out on 30 November that the boards of British companies are gently evolving towards the American model where the company chairman and the financial manager are the company’s only two executive directors. The Chairman thus requested that statistics also cover the number of women present in executive committees just below the level of executive boards.
Susan Vinnicombe, Director of the Cranfield Business School in charge of compiling data, has confirmed a real necessity to follow this direction. In the opinion of the 30 % Club, investors also have a role to play in the promotion of women in boards. Aviva Investors, the asset management branch of British insurer Aviva, has announced that in 2013 it will start voting against FTSE 350 Report & Accounts if a diversity statement is not included or the statement is considered unsatisfactory. This initiative has nonetheless not won the unanimity of all British investors. “Many investors are still very focused on the quarterly results of companies and not necessarily on board diversity,” concluded Colin Melvin, Chief Executive of Hermes Equity Ownership Services.