At least 40 per cent of company boards should be made up of women, claims an organisation attempting the bridge the equality gap at the top.
Women on Boards UK (WOB), which launched in Birmingham, seeks to match aspirant females with firms looking to appoint women to directorships.
It urges businesses to set targets of 40 per cent men and 40 per cent women on their boards, with the rest being an undefined mix of both.
Since its web launch in the UK 800 women have registered with WOB and it claims to be gaining traction in some sectors, including sport.
The organisation hopes a new corporate governance code introduced in November, aimed at companies listed on the London Stock Exchange, will see companies look at gender diversity and increase transparency around recruitment to boards.
When similar measures were introduced in Australia, where WOB was founded, the number of women on boards rose from eight per cent to 15 per cent on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) 100 and most companies there now show how many women they employ at each level.
Claire Braund, co-founder of WOB in Australia and the UK, said there is a large pool of women with the talent and experience to occupy a proportionally small number of positions. “To use the FTSE100 as an example, there are nearly 1,100 director positions in total which turn over at less than 15 per cent per year,” Ms Braund said.
“In numerical terms this means around 130 director positions are up for election.
“When it comes to other sectors, such as building societies, charities, the public sector and sport to name but a few, the skills and expertise sought on boards is more varied and the field of potential candidates becomes very much larger – again opening up many opportunities for aspirant female directors.”
Ms Braund said she did not subscribe to the argument that there were insufficient women in the pipeline, which she said is regularly used to defend the status quo and take the heat off the board.
“Our experience in Australia is that there are many women with the capacity to serve on ASX and other boards, but lack of transparency in selection processes, narrow definitions of the skills and experience required and a tendency to ‘recruit in their own image’ means women do not get to the starting gate when it comes to applying for board roles.”
WOB also advocates gender targets across organisations and believes the percentage of women at executive and senior leadership levels should reflect the gender split in graduate intakes.
Given women have been graduating from university at parity or above in many sectors, there has been a major and expensive loss of talent for many organisations, according to WOB UK managing director Fiona Hathorn.
“More than ever companies in all sectors need new thinking, new blood and new people with different experiences,” Ms Hathorn said.
“Many of them could get this by simply appointing a few more women into top roles.”
WOB, which costs £120 per year to join, aims to provide talent development for women and opportunities to network.
The Birmingham launch was held at PwC’s office in Cornwall Street and Mark Smith, head of PwC in the Midlands, said WOB’s aims make good business sense.
“When I joined this firm in 1985 I was one of 35 and about 20 of us were male and 15 female,” he said.
“I could walk up to the floor where the partners were sat and there was 25 men and one female.
“We’ve made progress in marketing senior positions to our women. We haven’t addressed it in the mid level, where it’s still showing an element of bias.
“In the Midlands we’re looking at recruitment, flexible working, networking opportunities and role models.
“What I have come to recognise is that females believe they have the opportunity to progress in our company and they are more likely to believe that if they see women in higher positions.
“We’ve made a lot of progress but there’s a long way to go.”
Ms Braund added: “Women are tired of waiting and hoping and being promised that things are going to change.
“It makes economic sense to engage with the other 50 per cent of the population.
“If you don’t take a stand, you don’t achieve change.”