Almost half of female executive directors are financially qualified, while 65 percent have a financial background, the study shows. This compares to just 26 percent of their male colleagues being financially qualified and 44 percent having a financial background, the report from Cranfield School of Management shows.
More than half of new female, non-executive director appointments have a functional background in finance, suggesting that women with a finance background are at a distinct advantage when it comes to applying for board roles over men, the study, seen by Telegraph Jobs, shows.
A slew of recent studies have research the barriers women face to reaching the top, but the latest Cranfield study aims to show what helps to facilitate female board representation.
Helen Brand, chief executive of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, which carried out the research with Cranfield, said: “What we have sought to understand through this study is why the finance function is such a springboard for women. We are seeing a time of change when it comes to women’s representation in the boardroom."
Ms Brand pointed out that since spring 2011, when the Davies review on women on boards was published, there has been a 5 percent increase of women's representation in the boardroom - equal to the entire increase over the previous decade.
More than half of the women appointed in this period have a functional background in finance and the proportion is even higher for female executive directors, at 65 percent.
Dr Ruth Sealy, deputy director of the Cranfield International Centre for Women Leaders and co-author of the report, added: “A certain level of financial acumen is necessary for all board directors. But for women, having a finance qualification or functional background helps to break down some persistent stereotypes about women’s competence, giving them credibility, legitimacy and a common language that allows them to join the conversation of the boards.”
However, although the report shows that finance is a clear career path for women to reach the top, does the latest study also reveal that chairmen are simply not casting the net wider in the search for female board directors?
A key point of the Davies review asked FTSE 100 boards to consider employing women from different backgrounds - not just finance - to ensure that there is diverse representation on boards. Lord Davies, the former minister who wrote the report, said companies should look at women from educational, academic and public sector backgrounds as well as those with corporate experience.
The latest Cranfield study suggests that most chairmen would rather recruit from finance pools, which is good news for women (and men) with finance backgrounds, but less good news for those with a range of other skills.
A separate report by Cranfield showed the number of female executives on boards has barely risen in two years since the Davies review.
The studies come as the Department for Business Select Committee debates the barriers to women's progress, in its new “women in the workplace” inquiry.
According to Steve Moxon, a self-described academic and author, one of the key reasons women will never succeed at the top in a corporate environment is because both sexes interact through sexual display around the board table, which leads to the demise of the female of the species.
This mating ritual is the main reason why most women will never succeed at the top in a workplace, he claims. It is also the reason why listed companies will only ever have a ratio of male to female board members at around 10:1, or so he claims, rendering it pointless that government tries to boost the ratio to 50:50.