Gender diversity in the boardroom – progress made but still a long way to go

By Michelle Chance, Partner and Head of the London Employment team at transatlantic law firm Womble Bond Dickinson UK

 “The Hampton-Alexander Review, which was commissioned by the Government to look at ways to ensure that talented women at the top of business are recognised, promoted and rewarded, has released new figures today (27 June 2018) showing that women hold 29% of FTSE 100 board positions.  Much progress has been made at the largest companies; in 2011, the figure was just 12.5%.  The target is 33% by 2020, which looks to be achievable.

Michelle Chance
Michelle Chance

“However, the more important question in my view is how many of those women hold executive Board Directorships which have real power and influence, as opposed to non-Executive Directorship Board positions, which give women the title but with much less influence and power in reality?  Further, how many of those women in Board positions are hands on working mothers who play a significant role both in their business and have quality time with their children and work flexibly to balance both their working and family lives?

“In relation to the FTSE 350, only a quarter of board positions are currently held by women.  The target is also to have 33% of women by 2020.  In order to reach that target, around 40% of all available board appointments need to go to women in the next two years.  Surprisingly, 10 companies have no female directors.  On a more positive note however, more than 80 companies have already reached the target.

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“The 33% target also applies to senior leadership positions and the Review has opened a portal for FTSE 350 companies to submit their 2018 gender leadership data.  Further figures will be published in November.

“Research has shown that firms with higher numbers of women in senior positions perform better than those with lower numbers of women in senior management, with returns above their national industry average.  There is therefore a business case – as well as a moral one – for boards to better represent their stakeholders. Pressure from investors and shareholders may help to push companies in the right direction.

“Private sector employers with 250 or more employees had to publish their gender pay gap data for the first time in April this year. Many employers stated that one of the reasons for their pay gap was the lack of women in senior positions. Tackling the gender gap in leadership positions should have a positive impact on the gender pay gap but it is likely to take some time, with the Fawcett Society estimating in November last year that it will take another 100 years to close the gap completely.”

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