Research by the Huffington Post has found 11 of the UK's top 50 retailers have no women on their boards at all, and less than 15% have achieved the target of having women make up 30% of their board.
Top clothing retailers JD Sports, Matalan, New Look and the Arcadia Group, which owns Topshop, Dorothy Perkins, Miss Selfridge, Evans, Wallis and other brands, have no women on their boards at all.
Other female-less boards include the Schwartz Group, which owns Aldi supermarket, local convenience store groups Martin McColl and Costco, electricals shop Euronics, Home Bargains owner TJ Morris, Lloyds Pharmacy owner Celesio Retail and frozen goods supermarket Iceland.
Brands with just one woman on their board are Boots owner Alliance Boots, Next, Amazon, Aldi, Primark, Shop Direct (which owns clothing brands Littlewoods, Very and Isme), Ikea, Sports Direct, Wickes owner Travis Perkins, House of Fraser, River Island, Phones 4 U, Costcutter and Nisa supermarket groups and Premier Foods.
The figures are particularly shocking because the majority of money spent in retail comes from women's purses. ONS stats on household spending showed that in 2011 men spent £244 a year on clothes, against an average of £458 on women's clothes.
Women's shoes accounted for £109 a year, while men's cost £68. Men's accessories cost £10 a year, while women's £21. Add this all up and on average women are spending £588 a year on their wardrobes, while men are shelling out £322. And that's before you take food, beauty products and hair into account.
At the opposite end of the scale, Tesco and John Lewis both boast female board membership above the 30% target laid out by several groups such as the 30% Club, which aims to bring more women onto UK corporate boards.
Tesco has 30.8%. John Lewis Partnership also has a board where 30.8% are female, while Primark's operational board has exactly a third (although its parent company AB Foods can only offer 12.5%).
Alpha Retail - the group which runs duty free stores in airport lounges - boasts 40% female representation, and SPAR UK supermarkets has a 42.9% female membership on its board.
Asda's parent company Walmart has 55.6% female representation at the top, but HuffPost was unable to reach Asda for a UK board breakdown.
Commenting on HuffPost UK's findings, Sian Westerman, managing director at Rothschild and a member of the 30% Club steering committee, said she was surprised at the number of retailers who had resolutely male boards, in spite of the focus on this issue for the past few years.
"It should be obvious that if your customer base is diverse, and if your work force is also diverse, it would make good business sense to have a diverse board to reflect these constituents as well as to facilitate good decision making," she told Huff Post UK.
"However, many retail businesses are looking to address this by working hard to facilitate return to work for women who have had children and actively implementing strategies to further develop the pipeline of talented women who will move up to board roles as the impact of the many excellent initiatives is felt. There is clearly a lot to be done, but the impetus for change is there."
This was evidenced by retailers like Marks & Spencer; although it only had 26.7% female representation at the top level, 64% of all management staff beneath that were female, 50% of all store managers are female, and 35% of senior management – the top 120 people underneath the main board – were female.
Similarly at the Kingfisher Group, which owns B&Q, Screwfix and other DIY retailers, said its board had just 27.3% female representation, but 40% of its staff were women and 29% of its manager were female.
Ann Francke, chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute, and former board director at Boots, said good management was vital if the struggling retail sector was to boom again, and that meant having a diverse board.
"We know having women in top jobs makes business sense, bringing diversity and new ideas to the counter. Businesses perform better with better balanced boardrooms. In retail especially, senior management should reflect their customers, a high proportion of whom are female," she told HuffPost UK.
"Like all companies, retail businesses should set themselves targets to see more women in top roles and be open about this information. Women who are already at the top should support others in getting there as well, mentoring and sponsoring other women is important. Seeing this action in retail would now, more than ever, have a positive impact for the industry."
The business case for mixed boardrooms
But does having a diverse board room make good business sense? Do retailers with a mix of men and women at the top do better in terms of profits generation, company stability and growth?
HuffPost UK asked business analyst Nick Hood at Company Watch to compare and contrast the 50 retailers, and look for trends between those with mixed boards and those with all-male groups at the top.
The results were fascinating - the boards of the male dominated companies have had 70% more risks than the mixed ones, thanks to greater reliance on intangible assets (such as acquisition goodwill, brand value or IT spend on websites) and having a debt ratio of more than 100%.
High debt levels were described by Hood as "toxic in a sector which is hugely capital intensive and has fragile profit margins" which are easily driven down to unviable levels by consumer pressure in tough times like today.
Having a high level of intangible assets was "equally dangerous" when lenders and credit insurers are taking the tough decisions about which businesses to support and which to abandon, Hood added.
Probably most striking of all, half of the male-only retailers were in Company Watch's 'warning area' for structurally weak retailers, compared to just 16% of the mixed board companies.
"The question is whether a significant female presence on a company's board tempers the macho element in decision making; most of all does it eliminate testosterone-fuelled deals," said Hood.
"Are these management teams more likely to keep an eye on the overall financial profile and take action to keep their company from becoming vulnerable to insolvency or a major restructuring?
"On the basis of our analysis of the sample of leading UK retail businesses, the evidence suggests that retailers with significant female representation on their boards have a far more prudent financial status. Conversely, a worrying proportion of those dominated by male directors have adverse financial characteristics that would concern most analysts."
The case for female-heavy boards?
One unusual retailer in the clothing space is women's workwear specialist Hobbs – it has a board that is almost exclusively female, with just its chairman having a Y chromosome.
That chairman, Iain MacRitchie, told HuffPost UK it is "an exciting learning experience" being the sole man on a board of women.
He continued: "For us, it was about picking the best team in order to realise the global potential of the Hobbs brand. In creating our board, we sought to find individuals who could develop our multichannel credentials, have international retail experience and the ability to understand and develop our brand."
Chief executive Nicky Dulieu added: "A mix of genders on the board with the right skill set is ideal. It is rare to have a majority female board and this was not our intention.
"We were focused on hiring the right people for the job, with the best skill set, team fit and expertise. In our case, these happened to be women but it is a bonus that we are able to wear and enjoy the product and understand it from a customer's perspective."
UPDATE: 8 March, 2013 10:34
The original version of this article stated that furniture retailer DFS had no women on its board. Since publication, HuffPost UK has been contacted to say that two of its 16 operational board members are women, appointed within the last year.
The article has been amended to take account of this new information.
Olympic heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis poses for the media after she received her Commander of the British Empire (CBE) medal from Queen Elizabeth II during an Investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace in London, Thursday Feb. 28, 2013. Ennis is among a number of British gold medal winners from the recent London 2012 Olympic Games to be honored by the Queen in recognition of their sporting achievements. (AP Photo / Jonathan Brady, PA)
Karren Brady poses in the press room at Cosmopolitan's Ultimate Women Of The Year at Banqueting House on November 2, 2010 in London, England. (Photo by Jon Furniss/WireImage)
Meryl Streep at the premiere of the Columbia Pictures film "Hope Springs," at the SVA Theatre in New York. Streep has donated $1 million to The Public Theater in honor of both its late founder, Joseph Pap, and her friend, the author Nora Ephron. (AP Photo/Starpix, Dave Allocca)
Dame Helen Mirren
Dame Helen Mirren, who has revealed the inspiration behind her head-turning pink hairdo at the Baftas was US reality show America's Next Top Model.
US First lady Michelle Obama walks through the crypt on her way to watch US President Barack Obama get sworn-in for a second term along with President Barack Obama, by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts during his public inauguration ceremony at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. on January 21, 2013. (Photo credit should read MOLLY RILEY/AFP/Getty Images)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (C) poses after visiting the mausoleum of Turkey's Republic's founder Kemal Ataturk in Ankara, on February 25, 2013, on the second an final day of her official visit to Turkey. (Photo credit should read ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images)
British singer Kate Bush. (AP Photo/EMI, Trevor Leighton) EDITORIAL USE ONLY
Rosa Parks smiles during a ceremony where she received the Congressional Medal of Freedom in Detroit. A lawyer involved in a long-running dispute over the estate of civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks claims that a judge allowed two other lawyers to pile up fees that ate away about two-thirds of the estate's $372,000 cash value. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)
Singer Adele poses with her award for best original song for "Skyfall" from the film "Skyfall" at the Governor's Ball following the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre on Sunday Feb. 24, 2013, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Vince Bucci/Invision/AP)
National Portrait Gallery London undated handout photo of Virginia Woolf by Gisele Freund 1939, part of the new portrait exhibition of gay icons that was launched today at the Gallery.
Author, screenwriter and director Nora Ephron at her home in New York. Publisher Alfred A. Knopf confirmed Tuesday, June 26, 2012, that author and filmmaker Nora Ephron died Tuesday of leukemia in New York. She was 71. (AP Photo/Charles Sykes, file)
Catherine the Great
Portrait of Catherine II, also known as Catherine the Great (Stettin, 1729-Pushkin, 1796), Empress consort of Peter III of Russia (1728-1762), painting by Fyodor Rokotov (1736-1809),1780, detail, oil on canvas.
Actress Tina Fey attends The Paley Center for Media Presents: 'Hey Dummies: An Evening With The 30 Rock Writers' at The Paley Center for Media on February 27, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images)
German-Jewish diarist Anne Frank, known for the diary she wrote while hiding from anti-Jewish persecution in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, during World War II (1939-1945). Her diary describes with wisdom and humor the two arduous years she spent in seclusion before her tragic death at the age of 15. Since it was first published in 1947, her diary has appeared in more than 50 languages. Perhaps more than any other figure, Anne Frank gave a human face to the victims of the Holocaust. (Credit: PA)
Beyonce, famed for hits such as Crazy In Love and Single Ladies. (Credit: Yui Mok/PA Wire)
circa 1860: English novelist George Eliot (1819 - 1880), pseudonym of Mary Ann Evans. She married John Cross in 1880. (Photo by London Stereoscopic Company/Getty Images)
Madonna performs during the 'MDNA' tour at Madison Square Garden on November 12, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Taylor Hill/Getty Images)
Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, stands in the garage during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on March 1, 2013 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
An undated file photo shows Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is meeting Tuesday March 20, 2012, with historians and scientists from The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, which will launch a new search in June for the wreckage of Earhart's plane off the remote island of Nikumaroro. (AP Photo)
Kate Swann, chief operating officer of Frog Design Inc., speaks at the Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network conference in Shanghai, China, on Monday, June 21, 2010. The Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network conference takes place from June 20-22. Photographer: Stephen Yang/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Angela Ahrendts, the CEO of Burberry, speaks at the National Retail Federation's annual convention, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012 in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Ellie Simmonds of Britain holds her silver medal during the medal ceremony for the women's 100-meter freestyle S6 final at the 2012 Paralympics games, Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Comedienne/talk show host Ellen DeGeneres is honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on September 4, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Petra Kelly, ecologist The German ecologist leader in Spain supporting the platform against the permanence of Spain in the NATO (Photo by Rafa Samano/Cover/Getty Images)
Canadian author Margaret Atwood at the 61st Frankfurt Book Fair in Frankfurt October 15, 2009, where China is this year's guest of honour. Some 6,900 exhibitors from around 100 countries are to gather in Frankfurt until October 18. (Photo credit: JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images)
Award-winning novelist Hilary Mantel.
Portrait Of The Danish Writer Karen Blixen In October 1959. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)
Director Kathryn Bigelow, recipient of the Feature Film Nomination Plaque for Zero Dark Thirty,' poses in the press room during the 65th Annual Directors Guild Of America Awards at Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland on February 2, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
American author Willa Sibert Cather (1873 - 1947), circa 1895. (Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images)
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laughs as Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta jokes prior to Clinton receiving the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service during a ceremony at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, February 14, 2013. (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
P J Harvey
P J Harvey attends Barclaycard Mercury Prize 2011 at Grosvenor House on September 6, 2011 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Dave Hogan/Getty Images)
The American poet Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) in 1961. New York Public LIbrary Picture Collection.
Jane Austen 1775-1817 English Novelist.
Aung San Suu Kyi
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi delivers her speech, during the 66th anniversary Mon National Day, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, at People's Square, Yangon, Myanmar. (AP Photo/Khin Maung Win)
Oprah Winfrey attends the Sixth Annual ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood Awards Luncheon at the Beverly Hills Hotel on February 21, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
61 AD, Queen Boudicca of the Iceni, a British tribe which rose in revolt against the Romans, attempting to rouse her countrymen. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Marie Curie, a physicist and chemist of Polish upbringing and, subsequently, French citizenship. She was a pioneer in the field of radioactivity and the first twice-honored Nobel laureate.
Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, in a photo dated June 16, 1963, after becoming the first woman to make a flight into space, a three-day flight aboard Vostok 6. (AP Photo/ITAR-TASS)
Augusta Ada, Countess Lovelace (1815-1852) English mathematician and writer. (Credit: PA)
Aesha Mohammadzai on Daybreak
Joni Mitchell is shown in New York on September 26, 2007. (AP Photo/ Jim Cooper)
Mother Teresa, shown in this August 1993 photo, celebrates her 85th birthday Saturday, hardly slowing down in her mission to rescue the world's poor and lead the Catholic Church's battle against abortion. Asked Friday August 25, 1995 what she planned for her birthday, Mother Teresa said, ``nothing special.'' If people come to wish her well for the occasion, she said, ``I will meet whoever comes to see me.'' (AP Photo/file)
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Arnault_Duprez"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/1118387847/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Arnault_Duprez">Arnault Duprez</a>:<br />Editor, columnist, poetess, essayist. Lebanese woman who could change the way women see themselves in the Arab world.