When FTSE 100 companies hit their target of 25% female directors this year, the question was, quite rightly, what next? For many, including MT, the answer was increasing the number of female executives.
Focusing on getting women onto boards, which has doubled the proportion at FTSE 100 top tables, was definitely A Good Thing. But it led to a huge rise in female non-executive directors while there are still just five female FTSE 100 chief executives.
So it’s good to hear the Davies Review, the government-backed commission originally set up to examine the underrepresentation of women on boards, is turning its attention to the dearth of women in management positions.
That’s ‘absolutely right and the logical next step,’ said Denise Wilson, the Davies Review’s chief executive. But she rightly pointed out that it’s not straightforward to define exactly what counts as top positions when they’re not board-level.
‘One of the areas we will explore is having a target for the highest earning executives in the FTSE 100,’ Wilson told City AM.
Aiming to have 25% of the best-paid positions filled by women is a possibility, although she admitted that could be a ‘bridge too far’. For example, one unintended consequence could be firms boosting women’s pay without giving them the senior role and responsibilities to go with it.
Another option could be greater transparency over the gender split of the highest-paid. The government is forcing companies with more than 250 employees to publish their gender pay gap, but it remains to be seen whether such measures have the intended effects of addressing wage disparities or leading to more women being promoted to better paid positions.
One road the Davies Review won’t be driving down is the legal one, though (e.g. quotas for women on boards a la Norway). ‘There is no appetite at all for legislation in this space,’ Wilson said.
The 25% target for women on boards did work, but given that there were plenty of qualified women out there who just hadn’t received the call this was a case of ‘picking low-hanging fruit’. Addressing the numerous barriers stopping women from moving up the corporate ladder into executive positions, on the other hand, is not so simple. It’ll be very interesting to see what the Davies Review decides to do when it releases its next report in October.