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Sunday, 25 November, 2001, 10:26 GMT
Top firms exclude women directors
Women at work
Many boardrooms are still no-go areas for women
Many boardrooms of the UK's largest companies are virtually female-free, according to a report.

The boards of British business should be a meritocracy - not just chairman's chums

Harriet Harman MP
The number of women directors in the UK's top 100 firms has fallen for the third year in a row, according to research from Cranfield University's Centre for Developing Women Business Leaders.

There are still 43 firms with no women on their board, and only 2% of executive directors are women.

"British boardrooms are one of the last remaining 'no-go' areas for women," said MP Harriet Harman.

Solitary CEO

Just one company - the media publishing firm Pearson - boasts a female chief executive officer.

Female directors
in 17 of top 20 firms
make 10 of total 1166 executive directorships
make 25% of M&S board
are least in media, tobacco and energy

Marjorie Scardino was the first woman to take the helm of a FTSE 100 company and she is still unique.

Marks & Spencer, Legal and General and AstraZeneca are highlighted as three companies that have been relatively successful in opening up their boardrooms to women.

But the industry sectors of media, tobacco and energy come out worst.

Catalyst for change

"We lag far behind the US, where business recognises the value of diversity and reflects on their boards the importance of women employees and women consumers," said Ms Harman.

"The boards of British business should be a meritocracy - not just 'chairman's chums'."

The inability of boardrooms to include women begins to look like sheer resistance

Angela Ishmael
The Industrial Society

And Sue Vinnicombe, co-author of the report, called on men to discuss the report's finding and initiate changes.

"Until male chairmen and CEOs are willing to engage in this debate I feel the situation will not improve...they are the key catalysts for boardroom change."

Recipe for success

But the research also shows that those companies that do have women on the board seem to be successful.

Seventeen of the top 20 FTSE companies have women directors, but only 10 of the bottom 20 firms.

Angela Ishmael is head of Dignity at Work at The Industrial Society, which gives advice on improving working life.
All-male boards
British American Tobacco

She said: "Women are proving their ability in education, as entrepreneurs and in the workplace.

"Against their success in these areas, the inability of boardrooms to include women amongst their numbers begins to look like sheer resistance.

"UK employers must harness the ability, talent, creativity and determination that many women in the workplace so clearly possess."

The BBC's Karen Hoggan
"Marks and Spencer tops the league"
Prof. Sue Winnicombe, Cranfield School of Management
"It is very disappointing"
See also:

17 Oct 01 | Business
Women bosses an endangered species
13 Feb 01 | Health
Bullying bosses 'cause sickness'
25 Sep 01 | Business
Women fail to reap promotion rewards
27 Aug 01 | Business
Top firms review women's pay
13 Aug 01 | Business
Women still paid less than men
09 Sep 01 | Business
Working mums work longer hours
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