FRIDAY 24 NOV 2017 12:31 PM


Despite concerted efforts by UK governments, businesses and organisations nationwide, gender disparity persists from the highest boardroom level, down. While progress is being made - for example the number of women on company boards has more than doubled since 2011 - companies outside the FTSE 100 are being urged to do more to ensure the UK doesn’t slip further down rankings for global gender parity.

Earlier this month, figures published in a government-backed review revealed that just 28% of board positions in FTSE 100 companies are occupied by women, an increase of 12.5% in 2011. However, while change is being made at the FTSE 100 level, co-chair of the Hampton-Alexander Review, Sir Philip Hampton, chairman of global pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), says the slower pace of change in the FTSE 350 indicates a lack of urgency in rectifying the historic gender imbalance.

“We should be seeing all FTSE companies now making strides to improve the gender balance at the top,” Sir Philip Hampton says. “This year we have seen progress pick up on FTSE 100 boards and go slow elsewhere. We must now renew commitment to this important issue for UK business to fully harness the under-utilised potential of the many talented women in the workplace.”

The past six years has seen some positive change the FTSE 350, with the number of all-male boards falling from a shocking 152 to just 10. However, according to the report, the next three years should see at least 40% of appointments to senior positions filled by women for FTSE 350 firms to hit gender parity targets.

For Lady Barbara Judge CBE, chairman of the Institute of Directors, fostering a workplace environment in which women feel comfortable to challenge for senior executive positions is the obvious next step. “Companies have substantially increased the number of female director appointments in the last few years, proving that there always were plenty of talented women out there just waiting to be given the chance to show they belonged in the board room,” she says.

“The next challenge is to create a step-change in the proportion of senior executive positions held by women. In this way, we can build a pipeline of female talent to consolidate and build on the improvements we seen in the last few years.”

Education secretary and minister for women and equalities Justine Greening says, “Tackling inequality in the boardroom and ensuring more women get into senior leadership positions is not just good business sense, it is vital to our economy. It is great to see some of our top companies really stepping up to address gender imbalances on their boards. We are making progress, but there is still a long way to go.”

The report was co-chaired by Dame Helen Alexander, who passed away in August 2017. With continued efforts, FTSE 100 companies should meet the 33% target for women on boards by 2020. As a passionate advocate of encouraging female participation at all workplace levels including the boardroom, however, it would be fitting for Alexander’s legacy to be a 50% gender split on all boards.