December 21, 2012 - Rachel Miller
Half of all small firms now have female directors, and the number of women at the top across businesses of all sizes has gone up by 24%, according to figures from Experian.
A major study of 2.7 million businesses looked at the number of male and female directors of UK businesses between 2007 and 2012. It found that the overall number of directors has risen to five million in 2012 compared to 4.3 million in 2007. And the increase in female directors since 2007 outstrips men – with a rise of 24% compared to 15%.
Taking into account business failures and new start-ups during the period, as well as changes to directorships of surviving businesses, 240,000 more female directors have been appointed overall.
According to Experian, small firms (with 3-10 employees) are still more likely than large companies (250+ employees) to have female directors. But the gap between the two is narrowing. In 2007, 48% of small companies had at least one female director compared to 33% of large companies. In 2012, 50% of small companies had female directors compared to 40% of large companies.
Start-up businesses have also been important in bolstering the number of female directors employed over the period. A third of the 1.4 million businesses that have started up since 2007 have one or more female directors.
However, Experian found little change over the past five years in the types of profession dominated by women. In 2007, hairdressing, primary education and social work were the industries with the biggest percentage of all female boards and this trend has increased further according to data for 2012.
Max Firth, UK managing director for Experian's Business Information Services division, said: "Smaller companies are clearly the driving force for female directors, but our research shows that larger companies' efforts to increase the number of female directors has made a significant difference over the past five years."
Commenting on the research, Roger Barker, head of corporate governance at the Institute of Directors (IoD), said: "We welcome the news that the total number of female directors has grown by a quarter since 2007, although there is clearly a long way to go. It is encouraging to see boardrooms opening their doors to the full pool of talent in the UK, and a growing number of women starting their own companies."