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Progress: the report said that attitudes were changing in an overwhelmingly “grey, pale and male” sector

04 September 2012

Britain’s smaller employers have finally woken up to the need to boost the number of women bosses, a report reveals today.

While household names in the FTSE 100 have come under intense public and political pressure to appoint more female directors and executives, lower-profile companies have been seen as slower to respond.

However, research from the Quoted Companies Alliance and accountants BDO found that of small and medium-sized companies that had recently hired directors or senior managers, almost a quarter sought female candidates, 38 per cent had had women on their shortlists and almost 30 per cent ended up appointing a woman.

The report said that attitudes were changing in an overwhelmingly “grey, pale and male” sector.

Tim Ward, chief executive of the Alliance, said: “A significant number of companies like to see more women on their candidate longlists and shortlists and that gives me a feeling of confidence that small and medium-sized companies are changing their recruitment process without being told to.”

In February last year, the government-commissioned Davies report called on FTSE 100 companies to have at least 25 per cent women directors by 2015.

Since its publication, the proportion has risen from 12.5 to 16.7 per cent.

However, Linda Jackson, managing director of career management firm 10Eighty, said women still found it harder to network “when they’ve got a day job to do and then have to go home and take over from the nanny”.But the number of women on the boards of even smaller companies is remarkably low, according to corporate data firm BoardWatch.

Of the 1,039 companies on the Stock Exchange’s Alternative Investments Market for younger, growing businesses, 800 or 77 per cent had all-male boards.

The reports come before tonight’s debate, hosted by the Evening Standard, called A Seat at the Top Table, examining why so few women are represented in top boardrooms.

‘Trend has grown over seven years’

Annette Nabavi, a partner at financial advisers AHV Associates, says more women are using their experiences leading small firms to get into the boardroom.

More than a decade ago she became CEO of XchangePoint Holdings, helping to turn it into a fast growing broadband company.

She combines her senior role at AHV’s Mayfair office with running her own company, Anchusa Consulting.

Dr Nabavi, who lives in Sussex, said the last seven years had seen “more women starting, leading and growing small companies”, adding that the increase of role models at this level encouraged women to join boards.