By Daniel Hunter

The majority of FTSE 100 companies are on track to meet the 25% 'women on the board' target this year, according to a new report.

The 2015 Cranfield Female FTSE Board Report reveals that 23.5% of FTSE 100 boards are now female (up from 20.7% last year), with 263 female held directorships across the FTSE 100.

The percentage of non-executive directors has increased to 28.5% and women in executive directorships is at an all time high of 8.6%.

Only 17 more female appointments are needed across the FTSE 100 boards to reach the target set by the Lord Davies review.

If the appointment rate of one woman to every two men appointed is sustained over the coming months, Cranfield expects the 25% target to be met before the end of this year.

Professor Susan Vinnicombe CBE, co-author of the report and Director of the Cranfield International Centre for Women Leaders, said: “The turnover of directorships is key to driving change and will be decisive over the coming months,”

The percentage of new appointments going to women over the last six months was 31.6%.

The percentage of women directors on FTSE 250 boards has also risen to 18%, with 65 FTSE 250 companies having met the 25% target. However, it is not all good news for the FTSE 250. Twenty-three still have no women on their boards and the percentage of women holding executive directorships has fallen to 4.6%.

Professor Vinnicombe said: “It has taken many years for the debate on women on boards to be taken seriously, but we are now seeing significant progress. There is no doubt that the Davies Review and the threat of EU-wide quotas has had a major impact on this progress. It is crucial that the momentum that has built up around this issue is maintained, especially with the support of whoever is in power after the General Election.”

Forty-one companies in the FTSE 100 have now reached the 25% target with many of them far exceeding it. Leading the way in joint top place of this year’s ranking, with 45% female representation on their boards, are Diageo and Intercontinental Hotels Group. Recognition must also go to Admiral Group plc with 41.7%, and Capita Plc and Kingfisher who both have 40%, which includes two women in executive directorships on their boards.

Dr Ruth Sealy, co-author of the report said: “This is a critical time for British businesses, not just to meet the 25% target, but also to continue to diversify their boards and organisations beyond the 2015 target. If we are to achieve sustainable change for the future, employers must focus their efforts on women at every level of their organisation.”

Minister for Women and Equalities, Nicky Morgan said: "We have almost doubled women's representation on FTSE 100 boards in four years; we only need 17 more women to be appointed to these boards and we will have met the 25% target we set ourselves. When we started this work in 2011 there were 21 FTSE 100 boards that had no women on them. Now there are no all-male boards left. This is great news.

"But to keep on track we also need to ensure that women are well represented at senior executive level too, making them ready to take up board level positions. In the FTSE 100, the total number of female senior executives has increased from 19.9% to 21% which is to be welcomed, but we need to keep up the pressure to see this increase still further. This is not only good for women, but good for business too. Boards which reflect their customers and clients are better able to understand their needs and respond to them."

Lord Davies of Abersoch said: "The rate of change that we have seen in FTSE 100 companies over the last four years has been remarkable. The voluntary approach is working, boards are getting fixed. We now have to increase the low number of female chairs and executive directors on boards and the loss of talented, senior women from the executive pipeline.

"I have never doubted that Britain has extraordinary talent, or that there are plenty of credible, experienced women, willing and capable of serving on British boards. FTSE companies are now making real efforts to seek out and unleash the full extent of this talent."