Commission helps companies increase representation of women on boards

Published: 08 Aug 2014

New guidance published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission today (23 July 2014) advises companies, search firms and recruitment agencies about positive steps that can be taken to improve the representation of women on boards.

To help companies make full use of positive measures available under the Equality Act 2010, the guidance includes a range of steps that can be taken to improve gender representation on boards such as:

  • Setting aspirational targets for increasing the number of women on boards within a particular timescale
  • Targeting networking opportunities for women
  • Providing mentoring and sponsor programmes, which assist in the development of female talent.

The guidance also makes clear that using women-only shortlists in order to increase gender representation on boards is unlawful under equality law.

The announcement comes as the Commission launches a GB-wide inquiry into the recruitment and appointment practices of the top 350 listed companies at board level. The Inquiry, to be chaired by EHRC Commissioner Laura Carstensen, will work closely with these companies to examine their recruitment and selection processes and the experience of applicants and decision makers. The aim is to identify recruitment practices which make a difference and deliver open, fair and merit based appointments.    

This inquiry builds on a previous Commission report, which found that the appointment of women to FTSE 350-listed non-executive director roles is being held back by selection processes which favour candidates with similar characteristics to existing largely male board members.

The findings of the Commission’s inquiry will be published in spring 2015 and used to produce best practice guidance.

EHRC Commissioner, Laura Carstensen, said:

'Research suggests that companies with diverse boards produce better performance and many companies recognise this. Equality is for everyone, and it is clear that there is still much more to be done to ensure that women have an equal opportunity to succeed on merit in gaining board positions. A lack of gender balance on boards is a detriment not only to women with the ability to hold such roles but also to businesses and the economy. In an ever more competitive and global economy, we cannot afford to be overlooking the talent of half of our population.'


For more press information contact the Commission’s media office on 0161 829 8102, out of hours 07767 272 818. 

Notes to editors

  • The guidance can be found here: Appointments to boards and equality.
  • Laura Carstensen is a non-executive director and chair of the Audit Committee of Park Group PLC and recently appointed to be a non-executive director and chair of the Values & Ethics Committee of The Co-operative Bank plc. Formerly she was an equity partner in the City law firm, Slaughter and May and since leaving the firm in 2004 she has held a range of board appointments in both the public and private sectors. She has served as a member of the Competition & Markets Authority since 2005 (formerly the Competition Commission) including as Deputy Chairman, and was appointed as a Commissioner of the Equality and Human Rights Commission in 2013. She is a Senior Adviser to the National Audit Office and a Trustee of National Museums Liverpool. 
  • The FTSE 350 Index is a ‘market capitalisation’ weighted stock market index incorporating the largest 350 companies by capitalisation, which have their primary listing on the London Stock Exchange. It comprises 350 large and medium-capitalized UK companies and is an aggregation of the FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 indices. 
  • Current data on board directors in the FTSE 350 Source: The Female FTSE Board Report 2014 (International Centre for Women Leaders. Cranfield School of Management. Cranfield University)
  • As of July 2014, all FTSE100 companies now have at least one female director.
  • The Commission’s previous report, Gender Diversity on Boards was published in 2012 
  • The Equality and Human Rights Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006. It is an independent body responsible for protecting and promoting equality and human rights in Great Britain.  It aims to encourage equality and diversity, eliminate unlawful discrimination, and promote and protect human rights.  The Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation. It encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act 1998 and is accredited by the UN as an ‘A status’ National Human Rights Institution.   

Press contact details

For more press information contact the Commission's media office on:

0161 829 8102