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British firms exceed goals for women in boardrooms

Monday, July 9, 2012  
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The number of women joining the boards of the largest British companies is on the rise, according to a report in the New York Times.

Women now hold 16.7 percent of the director’s positions in FTSE 100 companies, up from 12.5 percent in February 2011. In recent months, 44 percent of the new appointments have been women., the newspaper reported.

One in four of the FTSE 100 companies has a board on which 25 percent or more of the directors are women, exceeding goals set by the British government, according to The Professional Boards Forum, which operates in Norway and Britain to help company chairmen find female candidates for nonexecutive directorships. Six of the FTSE 100 companies have boards on which more than 30 percent of the members are women.

Another 13 companies have boards on which 20 percent of the directors are women.

Last year, the British government implemented a package of measures intended to encourage gender diversity, including a guideline that by 2015, 25 percent of the board members of the largest British companies should be women.

"My guess is that we’ll see more companies with 30, 40 percent women on their boards in the years ahead,” Elin Hurvenes, founder and chairwoman of the Professional Boards Forum, told the newspaper.

The pace of change has been slower among the next tier of British businesses, where 98 of the FTSE 250 companies have all-male boards, down from 131 in February 2011. The number of women directors in the FTSE 250 stands at 10.9 percent, compared with 7.8 percent in February 2011.

The next challenge is for companies to help the women already on staff develop their executive talents, according to Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, chief executive of 20-first, a consulting firm on gender issues and the author of How Women Mean Business.

"Boards have been useful in sort of building awareness about gender unbalance in business,” she told the newspaper, "but the real work to me is on executive committees and the inside of companies.”

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