Rallying call for FTSE bosses to push for gender equality at work

07 July 2016 -


The bosses of Britain’s biggest companies are being urged to renew their focus on getting more women into senior positions as a new report reveals there is still more to be done

Matt Scott

Top executives from leading FTSE companies are set to meet in London to launch a fresh review aimed at improving female representation in leadership positions of British business.

Lead by Sir Philip Hampton, chair of GlaxoSmithKline, and Dame Helen Alexander, Chair of UBM, the review will plot a path for getting more women through the executive talent pipeline and has set itself the target of all boards being at least 33% women by 2020.

Its main focus will be on ensuring the very best of female talent make their way up the pipeline by removing barriers to their success and to continue to drive forward the momentum from Lord Davies’s work, which pushed the numbers of females on FTSE 100 boards up from 12.5% to 26%.

Ann Francke, chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute, said: “Three things are proven to propel progress in an organisation’s gender balance - transparency, targets and a commitment to drive change from the top. The FTSE report used all three of these to drive up the percentage of women on boards with the Davies report. Now it’s time to apply these once again to fix the female executive talent pipeline.

“Transparency is essential because without it you have no idea where you stand, so tracking the gender balance of managers at junior, middle and senior levels is a necessary first step. It's most likely you'll see a pyramid shape: many more at the bottom and far fewer the top.

“So take the second step, set targets to fix your gender balance, especially at executive level.  And measure, track and report your progress.  Programmes such as agile working, outcomes-based  performance conversations, sponsorship of talented women and training to highlight and overcome unconscious bias are all effective - but only if the CEO stands genuinely behind them.”

Minister for Women and Equalities Nicky Morgan said: “This Government has prioritised equality for women, pushing for greater representation in business and providing young women with the role models that inspire them and their career choices. We have already made huge progress – having increased the percentage of women on FTSE 100 boards from 12% to 26%.

“But now is not the time to pat ourselves on the back and say ‘job well done’ – we must be even more ambitious.  That’s why I am delighted that Sir Philip and Dame Helen will be heading up such a prestigious team of Britain’s best and brightest leaders to drive this ambition forward.

“This isn’t just important for women – it’s critical for our economy – that’s why I want to see greater representation from the classroom to the boardroom.”

The review team has already begun taking action by engaging with executive search firms, business leaders, academics and other key parties on how best to improve the female pipeline within the FTSE 350. 

A key element of the review will also consider current research on how to drive improvements and the obstacles preventing women’s progression. It is expected that findings will be presented to Government by the end of 2016.

More work needed

The announcement comes as the new 2016 Female FTSE Board Report is released by Cranfield University, City University London and Queen Mary University London, which shows that the overall percentage of women on FTSE boards has increased compared to March 2015.

In order to meet the 2020 33% target, however, the rate at which women are being promoted to executive positions needs to improve.

Recently turnover rates have decreased, with less people leaving and joining companies and the percentage of new appointments going to women over the past six months dropping below the one in three required to meet the 33% target.

Corporate Governance Minister Baroness Neville-Rolfe said: “We have seen an increase of 137% in the number of women on boards. Yet 15 boards in the FTSE 350 are still all male and women only count for 7% of Executive Directors.

“Philip Hampton and Helen Alexander will examine how to improve the representation of women in the executive layer and champion continued increases in the representation of women on boards across the FTSE 350. This will help to ensure a sustainable talent pool of women for board positions for both executive and non-executive positions in the future.”

Francke added that not only did gender equality make sense on a moral level, it also made clear business sense.

“Remember improving gender balance in the executive pipeline isn't only about promoting women, it's about boosting your organisation's leadership, capability and performance,” she said. “Diversity delivers results: better financials, more engaged employees and improved decision making.

“So what are you waiting for?”

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