Efforts to increase the number of women in the boardrooms of Britain's largest companies have failed, according to new research, with almost no change in the number of female directors over the past year.
The overall proportion of women on the boards of UK FTSE companies rose only marginally from 12.2% in 2009 to 12.6% in 2010, according to figures compiled by headhunters Egon Zehnder International.
The analysis, which looked at more than 4,600 directors in over 600 British public companies, found that the picture among smaller FTSE 250 and FTSE Small Cap companies is even worse, with the proportion of female board directors falling over the past year to 7.8% and 7% respectively.
And taking non-executive directors out of the equation shows that the overall proportion of women in executive board positions is a mere 5 per cent. In the FTSE 100, just 17 out of 1074 executive board members are women.
"With quotas potentially coming in elsewhere we could have issues in the UK," said Andrew Roscoe, managing partner of Egon Zehnder International in London. "There may not be enough senior women in other markets to meet quotas and the risk is that a limited pool of female talent in the UK will be targeted, making it harder to achieve a better balance in British boardrooms."
The figures come amid growing international interest in quotas and other forms of affirmative action to improve the gender balance at the top of many public and private organisations after years of painfully slow progress.
In 2006, Norway was the first country to introduce legislation mandating a quota of 40 per cent female representation on the board of public companies.
Meanwhile, the European Union has warned member states that unless more women are appointed to the boards of public companies, attempts will be made to impose gender quotas under powers granted by the Lisbon Treaty.
"With quotas potentially coming in elsewhere we could have issues in the UK," said Egon Zehnder's Andrew Roscoe.
"There may not be enough senior women in other markets to meet quotas and the risk is that a limited pool of female talent in the UK will be targeted, making it harder to achieve a better balance in British boardrooms."
"The extent of the problem in the UK is already clear from the picture in FTSE 250 and Small Cap companies," Mr Roscoe continued.
"Whilst bigger companies are doing more to appoint more female non-executive directors, this is not true of smaller firms, which seems to explain the drop-off in numbers of women. More worryingly, it also suggests smaller firms aren't developing a pool of senior female talent."