Number of female directors rockets over the past five years

In a new study of over 2.7 million businesses that looked at the number of male and female directors of UK businesses between 2007 and 2012, Experian reveals that the overall number of directors has risen (5 million in 2012 compared to 4.3 million in 2007), with the increase in female directors since 2007 outstripping men: 24 per cent compared to 15 per cent. 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.

When Experian examined the figures by company size, it found that, although small companies are still more likely than large companies to have female directors, the gap between the two is narrowing. In 2007, 48 per cent of small companies had at least one female director compared to 33 per cent of large companies. In 2012, 50 per cent of small companies had female directors compared to 40 per cent 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 started up since 2007 have one or more female directors, adding 523,000 female directors overall, replacing the 297,000 female directors whose companies closed between 2007 and 2012.

Although the increase in female directors is positive news for women looking to break the glass ceiling, Experian found little change over the last five years in the types of profession dominated by females. 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. At the other end of the scale, over the five year period there were less all-female boards in 2012 in some typically male-dominated professions such as plumbing, installation of electricity and software publishing.

Max Firth, UK Managing Director for Experian’s Business Information Services division, said: “Much of the existing available data about female directors focuses on FTSE companies. We’ve used our extensive database, comprising nearly three million companies and 100 industry sectors, to show a more in-depth picture of the number of female directors across the UK.

“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. And let’s not forget the contribution made by female entrepreneurs, with many starting up their own companies to manage work/life balance and fit with family commitments, without whom the number of female directors would be considerably lower.

“But when it comes to different industry sectors, our data shows that the picture is fairly static. Whilst there are undoubtedly many women who are breaking new ground and overcoming stereotypes, our data shows that amongst the total population of UK companies, the industries with most female directors are pretty much the same as before the recession.”