Companies cannot afford not to improve female representation in UK boardrooms, according to one industry figure.

Following the prime minister’s comments on gender equality at the Northern Future Forum Summit in Stockholm, Piya Khanna, founder and executive coach at Change to Succeed, has spoken out about the effect female directors could have on companies and the economy as a whole.

“It makes good business and economic sense to have gender diverse boards,” she said.

“If the UK wants to be a force in the global economy going forward, it’s imperative that our companies outperform their rivals in all sectors – and one way to achieve that is to ensure gender diversity at board level.”

Speaking at the summit in Sweden, Mr Cameron said he hopes to accelerate the increase of women in top executive roles without resorting to quotas, but he will not rule them out.

The Prime Minister also discussed the effect of lack of female representation on the economy, emphasising that the drive to improve female representation is not just about gender equality but is also about “effectiveness”.

He said: “The evidence is that there is a positive link between women in leadership and business performance, so if we fail to unlock the potential of women in the labour market, we’re not only failing those individuals, we’re failing our whole economy.”

Research shows that only 15 per cent of the seats in British boardrooms are currently occupied by female directors, up from 12.5 per cent in 2010.

However, a government-commissioned report last year recommended that quotas should be introduced if companies do not take action to improve gender equality in the workplace and increase the number of female directors to one in four by 2015.

“I believe it’s critical to have egalitarian board rooms to make real Britain’s claim of being a fair and egalitarian society,” Ms Khanna added.

“Having a more visible presence of women at board level will lead to other women seeing that it is possible and use them as role models and inspiration.”