Female representation in top roles shows ‘little sign of change’, says government review

Report shows at least half of senior appointments next year must go to women to hit 2020 target despite progress at board level

The UK’s top companies are still on track to meet the target of a third of women holding boardroom positions by 2020, but too little is still being done to help women progress into C-suite and other senior leadership roles, a government-backed review has found.

The latest annual report from the Hampton-Alexander Review found that last year was one of the strongest for progression since the government set its target of 33 per cent female representation on FTSE 350 boards back in 2011.

Almost a third (32 per cent) of all FTSE 100 board positions are now held by women, up from 30 per cent last year and 13 per cent in 2011. Women also now hold 30 per cent of FTSE 250 board positions, up from 25 per cent last year and only 8 per cent in 2011. 

The review found that, if the same rate of progress continues next year, the FTSE 350 will be on track to meet its boardroom target by the end of 2020 deadline.

But the report said employers were still a way off meeting the separate target of 33 per cent representation across senior leadership roles. Of 923 senior positions held by women, including both executive and boardroom roles, only 25 had been appointed chair of their committee and fewer still were chief executives.

And across the FTSE 350, there were still 44 all-male executive committees.

Get more HR and employment law news like this delivered straight to your inbox every day – sign up to People Management’s PM Daily newsletter

The report called for a “stronger focus” to address the imbalance and create gender parity in senior leadership roles of the UK’s top-listed businesses.

In order to meet this target across senior leadership appointments, the report said that half of hires at this level next year need to go to women.

Denise Wilson, chief executive of the Hampton-Alexander Review, said although “strong foundations” had been laid since the targets were introduced in 2011, the number of women in senior roles was “showing little sign of change” and a step-change was needed to drive gender parity for senior leadership roles below board level. 

“The very senior jobs were always going to be the hardest of challenges,” Wilson said. “However, a stronger focus is now required at every stage of the appointment process to address the reasons why top jobs aren’t going to women.” 

Responding to the review, Dr Jill Miller, diversity and inclusion adviser for the CIPD, said there was still a long way to go before businesses can say there is equal opportunity for women in Britain’s boardrooms and leadership positions. 

She highlighted the need for women to be represented in executive roles, rather than non-executive roles, which was “still far too low” and needed to be addressed as a priority.

“The ongoing failure to address this highlights that too few businesses are thinking about talent planning and how they can make senior roles more accessible and attractive to women,” Miller said, adding that as the government’s 2020 target draws closer, companies need to be “bolder and more inclusive” with their efforts towards diversity in senior leadership roles to include individuals of different ethnicities and diverse backgrounds.

The Hampton-Alexander Review also found the number of “one and done” companies – where only one executive position is held by a woman – dropped this year from 74 to 39. This included 11 new entrants to the listing, while 28 companies remained for the second year running. 

The report said these companies – which include big names like Clarkson, Domino’s Pizza Group, Telecom Plus and the City of London Investment Trust – were a “long way off target” and showed a “seemingly tokenistic approach” to gender balance.

Suki Sandhu, founder and CEO of diversity and inclusion consultancy INvolve, agreed there is still a lot that needs to be “corrected” before the boards of the UK’s biggest companies “reflect the society” they serve. He explained a strong talent pipeline is the only way to ensure progress continues. 

“While there are barriers to women climbing to the top of the career ladder, lack of talent is not an issue,” Sandhu said. “Businesses need to be creating opportunities for women to excel in business, they need to be creating role models by celebrating individuals who show it’s possible to be female and successful, as well as those who are working to fuel the female talent pipeline.”