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News - 29 July 2006
Kate Swann transformed the fortunes of W.H. Smith

Women crack the glass ceiling

If you want your business to be more profitable appoint a female director. This is a message that is emerging from a recent survey conducted by Experian.

Female directors are more likely to be involved in profitable businesses – 57.6% of all female directors are involved in companies that make a profit, compared to 56.1% of male directors.

However, despite this performance, female directors are still outnumbered in the UK’s boardrooms, with an average of 3.3 male directors to every one female director. Nevertheless, this is an improvement on 2005 figures.

Analysis of Experian’s National Business Database reveals that women now make up 23% of all directors in the UK, an increase of just one quarter of a percentage point on the 2005 ratio. They are most likely to be in involved in companies relating to education, health & social work and hospitality & leisure. At the other end of the scale, the glass ceiling is still firmly in place in Britain’s utilities companies, with 9.1 male directors to every one female director.

Women are making a major impression in small companies but they still struggle to be accepted in larger organisations. Female directors tend to be more entrepreneurial by nature and are more likely to be in charge of small to medium sized businesses employing up to fifty people while men continue to control large corporations.

Only 6,740 women are directors of companies employing more than 250 people compared to 53,524 men, although women are making progress with 633 (10%) more directors in the board rooms of large businesses than in 2005. Female directors are also more likely to run companies defined as small by turnover, with 98% of female directors working in companies with a turnover of less than £5.6 million per annum.

Experian’s research also reveals that the majority of directors are typically aged between 40 and 49, accounting for more than 1.2 million of the UK’s directors (30%). As far as gender differences go, the findings show that women are more likely to enter the boardroom earlier than men – perhaps because they are more willing to start their own businesses while men prefer to climb the corporate ladder. The proportion of female directors making up the 18-29 age range is higher, at 27.8%, than any other age group (of normal working age) and this group accounts for 5.3% of all female directors compared to 4.0% of males in the same age band. The most male dominated age category is the 55-59 range, in which there are almost four male directors to every one female director.

Richard Lloyd, Managing Director of Experian’s Business Information division, commented: “Men may still dominate boardrooms across the UK, but women are continuing to redress the balance, and often control companies which are more profitable. It’s refreshing to see that in some parts of Britain, women now outnumber their male counterparts in the boardroom, though there are still no industry sectors where this is the case. The glass ceiling may still be in place for the UK’s female directors, but the cracks we identified in last year’s research seem to be widening.”

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