More women on boards... but where are all the EDs?

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When Lord Davies set his target for 25% of the FTSE100 boards to be women by 2015 it was clear this was going to be quite the challenge. However, we have always supported a voluntary-led approach and from our Women in Manufacturing research the resounding answer from women is that they only want to be appointed to a board based on merit….not because of a quota - encouragement not enforcement.

Year after year I have been asked by many interested parties whether the FTSE100 manufacturing companies would step up to the challenge and meet this target and I always remained optimistic, but it will always a case of ‘waiting to see’.

When we reported last year that women accounted for 21% of all board seats in the FTSE100 manufacturing companies, I began to become quietly confident, and today our third Women in Manufacturing report finds that women now account for 23% of all boards seats in the FTSE100 manufacturers and so my quiet confidence can now become more vocalised as I am sure these companies will continue to go to great lengths to go above and beyond the target.

Today, Lord Davies published his Annual Report on Women on Boards, which has found that 23.5% of FTSE100 boards seats are taken by women. Manufacturers are keeping up to speed with the overall efforts by the wider FTSE100.

We must celebrate these successes, but as always we must not become complacent. We need to continue to encourage a voluntary and industry-led approach to increase female board representation. We also need to encourage more mentoring, support and guidance programmes, better strategies for identifying women in companies that have the credentials to be on those boards. As the Lord Davies report says today ‘Balanced boards mean better business.’

However, meeting the target is not enough, the FTSE100 must go above and beyond the targets and address the ‘niggles’ in some of today’s figures.

My ‘niggle’ is that whilst we have taken giant steps to increase overall numbers, the numbers of women taking Executive Director (ED) boards seats remains low at 8.6%. This has increased by 6 percentage points from 5.5% in 2011, but compare that to the number of women who are non-executive directors which has increased by a whopping 122 percentage points.

We have found the same challenges in our Women in Manufacturing report, with women’s share of executive roles remaining stubbornly static at 8% this year and only five of the 25 FTSE100 manufacturing companies having a female executive director.

So why is this?

All sectors will have their own unique challenges as to why there has been limited progress in increasing the number of women who are executive directors. For manufacturing, the issue is quite clear – the sector is simply not attracting enough women into the industry at every level. If we are to address this issue, then we must start by tackling the problems at the grass-roots.

Many of you will know that I blog passionately about the need to get more girls interested in manufacturing.  This includes more girls taking STEM subjects throughout their education and encouraging more females to consider undertaking an apprenticeship in manufacturing and engineering.

Again, progress is slow – in 2012/13, females accounted for just 7% of those starting engineering and manufacturing apprenticeship – 7% (I feel the need to repeat that for emphasis). The same story can be told when applying to university, with females accounting for just 15% of engineering degree applications at university.

We know what action needs to be taken – encouraging more girls to study STEM subjects, more work experience opportunities to showcase manufacturing and engineering, more female role models, more women in manufacturing in the media, better careers advice in schools - and issues that we said need to be address in our 2015 Skills Manifesto. We’ve seen positive trends and read positive stories, but we need more, more, more!

If we do not boost the pipeline of female talent into our industry, we will not see females climb up the ranks and reach those executive director roles.



Head of Education & Skills Policy

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