Major growth in female FTSE board representation – but ‘job is far from done’

One third of all board members at FTSE 100 companies are now female, according to new data – but the government says more work is still needed to create a true gender balance.

Statistics which show 33% of board members are female represent significant growth, as the ratio stood at just 12.5% less than a decade ago.

However, although this growth means a key target of the Government-backed Hampton-Alexander review has been met a year early, Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom insists more must be done to create true equality.

Leadsom said: “The Hampton-Alexander Review has done fantastic work. But it’s clear that women continue to face barriers to success, whether that’s through promotion to key roles or how they are treated by colleagues.

“Businesses must do more to tackle these issues and we will support them in doing so, including through our world leading reforms to workplace rights.”

The growth in female board representation has been achieved through co-operation from the private sector, without need for legislation, penalties or fines.

However, the latest figures continue to highlight a concerning lack of female representation in senior leadership and key executive roles in FTSE companies – for example, just 15% of FTSE 100 Finance Directors are women.

The review shows further work is needed for many FTSE 100 companies individually, and for the FTSE 250 overall to meet the 33% target, as it currently sits at 29.5%.

CEO of the Hampton-Alexander Review, Denise Wilson, said: “Half of all available appointments to FTSE 350 leadership roles need to go to women in 2020, not only to meet the 33% voluntary target, but to ensure UK business fully benefits from diverse perspectives and is availing itself of the whole talent pool.”

Research produced exclusively for the review by the Global Institute for Women Leadership at King’s College London also shows women facing everyday sexism in the workplace, with examples including higher reports of insults or angry outbursts directed at women compared to men.

This hostility must be eradicated, says Professor Rosie Campbell, Director of the Global Institute for Women Leadership, King’s College London.

Campbell said: “Where there are hostile workplace cultures, we simply can’t ask women to lean in and try harder to reach leadership positions.

“Instead we need to ensure undermining behaviour is called out, not rewarded, and build an inclusive environment that embraces diverse leaders and allows everyone to thrive and give their best work.”

The forthcoming Employment Bill will seek to better support women in the workplace, with measures including enhanced protections from pregnancy and maternity discrimination and, subject to consultation, making flexible working the default.

Leaders at some of the UK’s leading business organisations have heralded progress made in levelling board representation – but warm there remains work to do.

CBI Director-General, Dame Carolyn Fairbairn DBE, said: “It’s great to see the FTSE 100 meeting the 33% target ahead of schedule, but the job is far from done. The whole FTSE 350 has to redouble its efforts to meet the Hampton-Alexander target by the end of the year.

“FTSE 100 firms may be speeding ahead in the boardroom, but they are making far less progress on senior leadership roles. We are still seeing too few women as the executive, day-to-day decision-makers of our leading companies – whether that’s as CEOs, MDs, or Finance Directors.

“Companies must do everything possible to create inclusive cultures and support talented people from all walks of life into these top jobs.”

And Charlotte Valeur, Chair of the Institute of Directors, said: “It’s right to celebrate the progress made, showing that focusing the spotlight on diversity can change the behaviour of big companies.

“However, this is not a case of ‘job done’. There is still a glaring lack of diversity at executive level and among chairs, and firms must continue to strive towards a more inclusive culture or they risk slipping backwards.

“While female board participation may have increased, we’re still on the journey towards businesses better reflecting their workforces and customers.

“The Hampton-Alexander review has shown that companies are capable of change, but the work is just beginning.”