The news that nearly half of all first-time directors appointed at Britain’s top companies last year were women, is an encouraging step forward for gender equality in business, but we must keep pushing to exceed that figure to reach a truly level playing field, says Beatrice Bartlay, founder and managing director of 2B Interface.

The research by Korn/Ferry Whitehead Mann suggested that 47 per cent of first-time board appointments to FTSE 350 companies in 2012 were female, compared with just 11 per cent in 2007. These figures give renewed hope that the Government target of a 25 per cent female representation of FTSE 100 boards by 2015 will be reached, with the threat of boardroom quotas being introduced if it is not.

Bartlay, who set up staffing agency, 2B Interface believes that the increase of appointments in the last year is a promising hint towards gender-balanced boards becoming the norm. “It has never been more important to ensure that there is equality in Britain’s top companies, in order to set the best example that women in business are being taken seriously,” commented Bartlay. “But there is still a long way to go before true equality is achieved, whereby female representation on boards reaches 50%.

“Women already face increased barriers to the top than men through childcare costs and responsibilities and a lack of female role models. FTSE organisations in particular need to make a conscious effort to dispel inherent inequality, and the only way of doing this is by pushing forward with the initiative to bring more women on to boards, be that via quotas or other means. These figures are encouraging, but firms must not become complacent about this issue, and allow it to be neglected once discussion has died down.

Bartlay continued: “Businesses need to think more broadly about the value a female perspective can bring to a company’s performance and profit margins. They must be rid of the negative attitudes surrounding the idea that a woman’s ability to do the job suffers if they also have a family. FTSE 100 firms must cast a wider net to bring in talent, and promote from within to nourish internally too - just a small change in attitude can go a long way to improving the diversity of a company.

“There are many businesswomen who have proven that they are just as capable of running the show as men. Let this be the trigger which shatters the glass ceiling preventing women from rising to the top spots within the UK’s best businesses,” concluded Bartlay.