The government has set a target of increasing the number of women appointed to the boards of public bodies to at least 40% by 2011.
Equality minister Harriet Harman unveiled measures to increase the number of women, disabled people and ethnic minority people appointed to the boards of public bodies, so that they reflect the wider population.
Only one-third (34.4%) of public appointees are currently women, although they make up more than half of the population.
A project will be launched to improve advice and information and encourage women to apply for top positions.
The government also intends to set new targets on race and disability. People from ethnic minorities currently hold less than 6% of posts, despite making up nearly 11% of the population. People with a disability make up just one in 20 appointees, despite one in five of the population having some kind of disability.
The Commissioner for Public Appointments will be given a stronger diversity remit, with the power to take steps to encourage and increase the number of women, disabled, and minority ethnic appointees. Research into why more women don’t apply for these roles will also be commissioned.
Harman said: “Our ultimate aim is to have fair representation of women, black and Asian and disabled people at every level of our democracy, including in public bodies. I’m going to keep a sharp eye on appointments made by each government department.”
Last month, Harman outlined details of the Equality Bill, which includes measures to allow organisations to take positive action to boost under-represented groups in the workplace.