Back in 2016, the government commissioned the Hampton-Alexander Review to address gender inequality at the top levels of some of the UK's largest companies. As a result, they set FTSE350 businesses a target of having women make up 33% of all board and senior leadership positions by the end of 2020. With only a year to go, we thought it would be a good time to check in, and see how things are progressing.
Unfortunately, while improvements have been made, there is still work to be done in this area. Sir Philip Hampton said that "we are still a long way from reaching the target for women in senior leadership roles below board level", with 175 companies being "well adrift" of the 33% target. In Scotland, seven of the 14 publicly listed groups are currently failing to meet their targets.
It is estimated that 50% of every senior appointment over the next 12 months will have to be a woman, if the targets are to be met. Data collected during summer 2019 indicates that, over the last year, the number of women in senior leadership positions of FTSE100 companies has increased by 1.6% to 28.6%. However, in the FTSE350 there are still only 14 female chief executives, with 44 companies in this group having all-male executive committees.
In more positive news, there are more than 900 women now serving on FTSE350 boards. This is providing a wider pool of women with experience of serving on boards. That should lead to more women being promoted to even more senior positions in future, such as CEO. Whether this happens in practice remains to be seen.
It is clear from all available research and evidence that having a diverse board is extremely positive for businesses, and is linked to improved performance. Studies report that women deal better with risk, and addressing the concerns of employees and consumers. With women making up large percentages of many companies' target groups, it seems only natural that women should be represented at the highest levels and so be involved in the key decision-making of these companies.
On the back of the #MeToo movement, women's rights in the workplace have been more actively discussed and promoted than ever. Culture is shifting, for the better. However, if businesses are to achieve true equality and promote the success of both men and women in the workplace, this has to start at a higher level – namely, in the boardroom.
In the current climate, companies need to give serious consideration to the reputational damage associated with failing to meet the targets. The 33% target is achievable – but only if progress is continued and, for some businesses, accelerated over the next 12 months.
We will continue to monitor progress in this area and provide updates in due course.