Hedley May, the leading independent search firm, notes the publication of today’s interim progress report on the recommendations laid down by the Davies Review which aim to increase gender diversity at the board level of Britain’s biggest companies. It is encouraging to note that 25 of the 83 FTSE 100 board-level appointments made since February this year have gone to women, however more than half of the females hired have held or are holding at least one non-executive directorship at another company.

With less than one in ten boardroom positions at FTSE 100 companies currently occupied by women, there is still a long way to travel to reach the Davies Review aim for 25% of boards to be female by 2015. The Review stopped short of recommending quotas but the deadline for companies to set out their gender diversity strategy within six months of the publication of the Review has now passed with barely one in five having done so.

There is a great deal more to be done to increase diversity at the top of Britain’s biggest companies and to achieve that end in a sustainable way, Hedley May calls for more emphasis to be placed on a more thorough system of internal recruitment, retention and promotion of those female staff which have proved they are best in class for their business.

Deborah Warburton, a partner at Hedley May, one of the UK’s leading search consultants, said: “The Davies Review is right to push for more diversity at board level but quotas alone are no panacea. It is more important to ensure that the best female executives can rise to the top of companies’ talent pools and, crucially, stay there. A push by certain institutional investors for chairmen to make a public statement of their goals must not result in simply window-dressing, but should follow a root and branch evaluation of how those goals can be fulfilled in practice.

Boards of directors must look more to recruiting from the key executive management functions where women have already managed to break through any perceived glass ceiling, such as legal and human resources roles. Making the best of the key functions where women are already well represented based on their merit would be a practical first step, but sustainable progress will only be made when working practices become more family friendly.

Among FTSE 100 companies there are 13 female general counsel up from four in 2006 – not many in absolute terms but progress nonetheless – while there are today 29 female directors of human resources. Outside of the FTSE 100 a similarly encouraging pattern emerges, while women account for more than 50 per cent of European heads of legal at investment banks, arguably the least diverse of all workplaces. There is also a significant pool of professional women in the leading law firms and accountants.”