Even as it became clear that Lord Davies’ boardroom gender targets were being ignored by most UK companies, the TUC warned that female unemployment rates were set to jump further from current 23-year highs.

An analysis of official statistics undertaken by the union umbrella organisation revealed that, because the number of women employed in the public sector had risen at three times the rate of men over the last decade, they would end up being disproportionately hit when job cuts really started to bite.

The percentage of females working in the public sector has grown by 3% to 735,000 over the last 10 years compared with a mere 1% increase in the number of males.

While as a national average, a quarter of the total workforce (17% of men) are currently employed as public servants, the proportion leaps to 39% in the North East of England, 37% in the North West and 36% in Yorkshire/Humber and the West Midlands.

A key issue is that the public sector took on 16% more workers over the last decade compared with an increase of only 3% in the private sector, thereby creating 65% of new jobs in the country – the equivalent of 993,000.

This led to 84% more new public sector positions being taken up by women compared with only 39% of net new jobs going to men.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “Female unemployment is already at a 23-year high, and with so many women employed in the public sector, this will only deteriorate as job cuts in our health, education, local government and the civil service continue to mount.”

Boardroom gender targets

The news came to light as a report by legal firm Pinsent Masons’ revealed that only eight FTSE 100 firms had followed Lord Davies recommendations on setting a minimum goal of having 25% of women on the board by 2015.

The companies cited in the study were Anglo American, Centrica, GlaxoSmithKline, HSBC, Land Securities, Marks & Spencer, National Grid and Vodafone.

Initial research from Ruth Sealy, a senior research fellow at the Cranfield School of Management and a member of Lord Davies’ panel, indicated that the number would be more like 15, however, with her final results due for publication in October.

When Lord Davies published his report entitled ‘Women on Boards’ on 24 February, he set a six-month time limit for publication of the boardroom targets, but also referred to it as ‘by September’.

Pinsent Masons interpreted the apparent lack of movement to date as the majority of FTSE 100 companies putting “two fingers up” to the targets. But Mark Spinner, a partner at rival law firm Eversheds said that if the deadline were taken as being the end of September, there was still time for action to be taken.

If it was not, however, he believed there would be inevitable repercussions. The UK Government, along with “most of Europe”, was committed to ensuring that gender diversity because a benchmark of whether a board was ‘fit for purpose’, Spinner said.

As a result, “I am afraid that, if FTSE companies do not react voluntarily to the Government’s desire to ensure that there is appropriate gender diversity on their boards, we can expect both European and national legislators to force quotas on us,” he added.