Has there been real progress on boardroom diversity?

The Hampton-Alexander Review finds more women on boards, but most are non-execs.

by Arun Kakar
Last Updated: 10 Nov 2017

FTSE 100 companies are on course to hit Lord Davies' target of having 33% women on their boards by 2020 - but smaller firms on the London Stock Exchange are still lagging behind, according to the latest Hampton-Alexander Review. We delved into the report:

The good

Increased transparency: Firms are no longer afraid to submit data on their female leadership. For the first time, every single FTSE 100 company handed in information on the number of women in their top echelons, and only 10 companies in the FTSE 250 failed to submit data. ‘In itself, that’s real progress,’ said the report. It’s a symbolic statement of intent from the FTSE: boardroom diversity can no longer be ignored.

Real progress has been made: Of the FTSE 100, 27.7% of women sit on boards compared with 12.5% in 2011. Next, Severn Trent and Diageo are leading the charge with the highest number of females on their boards and in leadership positions.

'When I joined Diageo in 2006, our executive committee consisted entirely of men and there were only a handful of women in senior leadership roles,’ says HR director Mairead Nayager. ‘Now, as a result of our determination and targeted initiatives, including gender-equal intakes in our career development programmes, we lead the FTSE for gender diversity.’

Syl Saller, Diageo’s chief marketing officer, adds: ‘The impact that senior women as role models have on other women in the organisation is enormous, enabling them to believe "I can do that".’

Meanwhile, the number of women on FTSE 350 boards has risen from 9.5% to 24.5% - and only 10 companies have all-male boards compared to a shocking 152 in 2011.

The bad

Named and shamed: Despite the rosy picture, the report admits that the gap between the companies doing a lot to work to tackle gender imbalance and those doing very little has ‘never been more obvious.’ Shamed FTSE 100 companies Mediclinic, London Stock Exchange Group, Segro, Glencore and Prduential still only have one female member on their board. When we contacted Prudential, they said they ‘hadn’t heard of the review’ and refused to comment.

More to be done: For the FTSE 350 to hit the 33% target for women on boards by 2020, ‘almost one in two - or around 40% of all appointments - need to go to women over the next three years’. The quality of these appointments matters too. So far, the overwhelming majority of new female appointments have been made at the non-executive level, says Raj Tulsiani, CEO of interim management company Green Park.

‘Green Park’s annual Leadership 10,000 report found that the number of FTSE100 female executive directors has actually decreased across the index this year and now sits at under half of the total number of female non-executive directors,' says Tulsiani. 

There are other major issues to tackle too, such as the gender pay gap, unconscious bias and discrimination against working mothers.

Recent stats from Equality Human Rights show that one in nine mothers (11%) reported that they were either dismissed, made compulsorily redundant where others in their workplace were not, or treated so poorly they felt they had to leave their job.

'If this is then scaled up to the general population, it could mean as many as 54,000 mothers a year are forced out of their jobs,' says Shannan Weeks of VerriBerri, which has an all-female managerial staff. 'The Hampton-Alexander Review shows we're making promising steps towards women's equality - but there are still big issues to address.'

The World Economic Forum reckons it will take 217 years for disparities in the pay and employment opportunities of men and women to end. British businesses need to up their game.

Image credit: g.zengin/Wikipedia

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