Britain’s boards have a diversity problem. The absence of women in particular from the top tables of business causes particular consternation, as the glass ceiling writ large. In 2011 Lord Davies wrote a report decrying the pace of progress and calling for a 25% target – double the level it had been the year before. In October 2015, that target was met and, in a sign of the mighty power of peer pressure (sorry), the all-male board was banished from the FTSE 100.
But how much progress has really been made? The rapid increase in the proportion of women directors was achieved almost entirely by filling boards with female non-execs. Between 2014 and 2015, the number of women NEDs increased from 163 to 263, according to Cranfield School of Management. The number of executive directors was only 22, however, two more than it had been in 2012. It's now 25.
Naturally, this has exposed boards to accusations of tokenism. That’s somewhat unfair, however. The pool of possible female senior directors is shallower after all, because fewer women were promoted up the pipeline in years gone by. Besides, non-execs can add something meaningful to the decision-making and culture of a company. If nothing else, the recent progress has helped to normalise the presence of women in board rooms, which can’t be a bad thing.
Nonetheless, when you strip out NEDs, the position of women in FTSE 100 boards remains stubbornly limited. Yes, there are women running six FTSE 100 companies (Carolyn McCall at easyJet, Alison Cooper at Imperial Brands, Liv Garfield at Severn Trent, Alison Brittain at Whitbread, Moya Greene at Royal Mail and Veronique Laury at Kingfisher), but an astonishing 80 of our top 100 firms are without a single female executive director.
Only five have more than one woman NED, while only three have chairwomen, both also non-exec (Manjit Wolstenholme of Provident Financial, Susan Kilsby at Shire and Alison Carnwarth at Land Securities). Clearly a lot more will need to be done before it resembles anything like equality. Philip Hampton, the man (yes, man) who was brought in to replace Davies, will have his work cut out for him.
Here’s MT's updated honour roll of FTSE 100 firms with at least one female executive director as of March 2016. Starred entries have two.
- Ashtead Group
- British Land
- Dixons Carphone
- Imperial Brands
- Old Mutual
- Royal Mail
- Severn Trent
- Smith & Nephew