In corporate America, female representation on S&P 500 boards is sluggish compared to FTSE 150 companies. The number of women serving as directors for FTSE companies has grown at a "spectacular pace" after a 25% target for female representation on boards was established in 2011, a study by leadership consulting firm Spencer Stuart found.

The Davies Review, a report on board composition led by Lord Mervyn Davies of Abersoch on behalf of the U.K. government, established a target for all FTSE 100 companies to have a minimum of 25% female representation by 2015. The target was met in aggregate in July 2015, although only 43 of the 100 reached the target individually. Still, the Davies Review increased the voluntary target for women's representation on boards of FTSE 350 companies to a minimum of 33% by 2020.

"When women are so under-represented on corporate boards, companies are missing out, as they are unable to draw from the widest possible range of talent," the 2011 Davies Review said. "Evidence suggests that companies with a strong female representation at board and top management level perform better than those without and that gender-diverse boards have a positive impact on performance."

In the U.S., women make up roughly 20.5% of S&P 500 boards in 2016, according to relationship mapping company BoardEx, a subsidiary of TheStreet (TST) . By contrast, 29.9% of non-executive directors for FTSE 100 companies are women, Spencer Stuart reported in 2016.

Between 2010 and 2015, the pace of change on U.K. boards has been significantly greater than the U.S., Spencer Stuart said. During that span, the number of women on U.K. boards increased 100%; while in the U.S. the number of women grew 25%.

A 2016 study of 132 North American companies by consulting giant McKinsey and nonprofit organization Lean In discovered that while most track metrics on women's representation, targets are far less common.

"Only 44 percent of companies set pipeline targets, and even fewer set targets for external hiring and promotions," the report stated. "And targets matter—it is easier to track and make progress when a company has clear goals in place."

While the U.S. has no established targets, S&P 500 companies are still recognizing the needs for increased gender diversity. There were more than two dozen people appointed CEO in the first quarter of 2017, according to BoardEx. While the new class of CEOs was mostly men, this year five were women, compared with four during all of 2016 and none in 2015.

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