HUNDREDS of women are failing to reach boardroom level in the UK because senior appointment decisions are being based on instinct rather than fact.

This is one of the key findings from a major study published this month aimed at encouraging organisations to appoint more women to board level.

The report, called Getting Women on Board - the Business Case for Diversity, is introduced by Lord Stevenson, chairman of Halifax Bank of Scotland, and has been co-written by Kate Headley, director at award-winning Harwood diversity consultancy Performance Through Inclusion (PTI), and Joanne Welch at Veredus Executive Resourcing.

Mrs Headley said: "The rigour and openness common with appointments at lower managerial levels are simply not evident with those made for the boardroom. The more senior the position, the less time spent defining the brief, it seems.

"This can have major repercussions because if you get it wrong at the beginning, all subsequent stages of your recruitment process will make little difference to the construct of your board.

"Organisations end up making appointments that feel comfortable' but are in essence based on instinct rather than fact."

The comprehensive guide has had input from PepsiCo UK Ltd, Ford of Britain, HBOS, KPMG, Deloitte, Pearson and Centrica, and looks at each of the barriers that hinder women joining UK boards.

The report comes as new research from the Forum of Private Business showed that small and medium-sized firms run by women have enjoyed a bigger sales growth in recent months and have recruited more workers than other companies.

A survey of 12,000 business organisations revealed that 44 per cent of those led by women recorded sales growth in the third quarter of last year, seven per cent more than the average figure.

Almost three out of 10 female-led firms recruited workers in the same quarter that vacancies arose, 10 per cent more than the total number of companies surveyed.

Nick Goulding, chief executive of the Forum of Private Business said: "It is vital we see more women driving the UK economy. If women started up businesses at the same rate as men, 150,000 extra new firms would be created every year."