Following the publication of this year’s figures for the number of women on the boards of FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 companies today (27 June), one of the UK’s leading experts in the area of women in leadership has spoken of her mixed feelings over “the story of two halves”.

Professor Sue Vinnicombe CBE, Professor of Women and Leadership at Cranfield School of Management, said: “It is encouraging to see that the trend continues to be upwards on the FTSE 100, with increased representation for women on the boards of these leading companies. Progress is slow but steady, and we remain on track to reach 33% of women on boards by 2020 as long as the current momentum is maintained.

“It is a different story on the FTSE 250, however. It is very disappointing to see that the number of female executive directorships has gone down, and the number of all-male boards has gone up. This is not the result that we wanted to see, and I would urge the leaders of FTSE 250 companies to urgently examine their representation at board level and seek to reverse this worrying course before it becomes a downward trend.”

Professor Vinnicombe is regarded as the premier research resource on women directors in the UK and is renowned globally in this field. She was a member of the Davies Steering Committee from 2010 to 2015 and has served on the Advisory Board of the Hampton-Alexander Review.

From 1999 until the Government launched the Hampton-Alexander Review in 2017, Cranfield University’s International Centre for Women Leaders provided the annual measure of the number of women executive directors on the corporate boards of the UK’s top companies. Cranfield continues to work closely with the Hampton-Alexander Review, and produces its own analysis – the Female FTSE Board Report – each year. The 2018 Cranfield report will be launched on 17 July, and is sponsored by Aviva.

Professor Vinnicombe continued: “We are currently in the process of examining the data in more depth to produce the Cranfield report, which will feature further analysis of trends in the data set, case studies and expert comment, including recommendations for how we can collectively encourage continued progress in this important area.”

Aviva has sponsored the Female FTSE Board Report since 2017. The company’s ethos is to build an inclusive culture that leads to a more diverse workforce at all levels of the organisation, including at board level.

Sarah Morris, Aviva’s Chief People Officer, is also a non-executive director of Aviva Investors. She said: "Improving gender diversity on boards is happening in small steps rather than strides. Inertia won’t bring greater diversity, as the disappointing figures across the FTSE 250 show. Building more diverse boards is tough – it needs well thought out plans, decisive action and a mindset for sustainable change – but the benefits remain very real. More diverse leadership teams drive better thinking, decision making, innovation and create better places to work, and there’s plenty of evidence to show they deliver superior financial returns."

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