Who’s running the UK’s private sector? A 49-year-old man

Political and media attention – including, it must be said, the Women at the Top project – has tended to focus board diversity discussions on large, quoted companies. New research from Creditsafe, the business intelligence company, paints a much broader picture drawing on data from more than 2m limited companies across Europe.

In the UK, according to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, small and medium-sized enterprises make up 99.9 per cent of UK businesses and contribute 50 per cent of annual gross domestic product. Not only that, but 59.8 per cent of private sector workers are employed by SMEs. You might be forgiven for thinking that fast-growth entrepreneurial firms should be generally more progressive than leviathan multinationals. Well, it ain’t necessarily so.

Three-quarters (76 per cent) of the directors of UK limited companies are male – or, one in every 11 male adults in the UK holds at least one directorship of a limited company registered at Companies House. This compares with one in every 33 women. The average UK company director is a 49-year-old man.

In Germany, only 20 per cent of company directors are women, while in France 25 per cent of directors are female.

Interestingly, companies with women-only boards, the research says, are on average 51 per cent more efficient at collecting debts than those will all-male directors.

I asked Creditsafe if there were any significant differences in the credit ratings of companies in their 2.6m-strong database. The data show that 26 per cent of companies with male-only directors have an adverse or negative credit rating, while 23 per cent of those with all-female boards have an adverse rating. A mixed boardroom seems to offer the best profile, with just 19 per cent of companies listed by Creditsafe having a negative credit rating.

Diversity is a proven strength, whatever the size or complexity of an operation. We need more women involved in the leadership of SMEs as much as in public companies if we are to compete more effectively. Changing the culture of almost 60 per cent of the private sector workforce would seem to be a priority.

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About our bloggers

Liz Bolshaw

Liz Bolshaw is a business journalist and editor. She has been a successful book publisher, online editor, magazine editor and publisher.

She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

Her last project for the Financial Times was as editor of the paper’s Business Education magazine.

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She writes regularly for the FT on business education, entrepreneurship, and management.

Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He was City editor of the FT and editor of the daily Lombard column on British business and finance from September 2006 to December 2010.

He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

Pino Bethencourt

Pino Bethencourt is a professor and leadership expert at IE Business School in Madrid. She is also an author and executive coach.

Lynda Gratton

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School.

Linda Tarr-Whelan

Linda Tarr-Whelan, former ambassador to the UN commission on the status of women, is a Demos distinguished senior fellow.