Male directors stay in their roles twice as long as women, says report

Employers urged to put in ‘hard yards’ to improve diversity, with concerns also raised over representation of senior BAME women

The average female director’s tenure is half that of a male director, a report into boardroom diversity has found, raising questions about when women will be appointed for “substantive rather than symbolic” reasons.

The 2019 Female FTSE Board Report, published by Cranfield University, found the average tenure of a female executive director in the UK was just 3.3 years, compared to 6.6 years for their male counterparts.

This gap narrows slightly when considering non-executive directors – those without day-to-day management responsibilities –  who have an average tenure of 3.8 years for women and 4.3 years for men. 

“This begs the question of whether women are appointed to FTSE 100 boards for symbolic rather than substantive reasons,” said Dr Doyin Atewologun, director of the Gender, Leadership and Inclusion Centre at Cranfield and one of the report’s authors.

The report also found female board members tended to be younger than male board members – the average male director being 59.2 years old, compared to 57.3 for women – which could hint at a bias against appointing older women, said Atewologun.

Concerns over the number of ethnic minority women on boards were also raised in the report. Based on the data available, of the 297 female directors on FTSE 100 boards at present, just 32 (11 per cent) are from a BAME background. Women did tend to come from a more diverse set of backgrounds when it came to education, however.

Susan Vinnicombe, professor of women and leadership at Cranfield and another of the report’s authors, added there was a large variation between businesses that were performing well on boardroom diversity and those that weren’t.

Speaking on a panel session at a launch event for the report, Vinnicombe said: “We get glass ceilings within glass ceilings – so we must be very aware, all of us, that it’s not just hitting the numbers. Once women get onto boards, we want to see them being taken seriously.”

Also speaking at the event, Fiona Cannon OBE, group director for responsible business, sustainability and inclusion at Lloyds Banking Group, said companies needed to use the data they had to analyse whether the culture they create is inclusive.

“[It’s] hard yards work. Every week, I’m looking at the vacancy list to make sure that women are on the shortlists,” said Cannon. “Every month, we look at all the data to see whether women are leaving, whether they’re being promoted. The chief of staff and myself sit down and do it. It’s that relentless attention to detail that’s important, because it can so easily go the other way.”

Brenda Trenowden CBE, chair of the 30% Club, added many companies were not undertaking enough data analysis to identify the root causes of why women fail to progress. “People are throwing money at various things that are not really working,” she said. “We’re still just tinkering around the edges of the pipeline and actually I believe that we really need to focus much more on culture.”

Cannon added: “Unless a CEO believes that’s really important for their business, nothing is going to happen.”

The report, which looked at the number of women on the boards of FTSE 350 companies, as well as the roles of senior non-executive directors in FTSE 100 companies, echoed the broadly positive findings of the latest Hampton-Alexander review that found a marked improvement in the percentage of women on FTSE 350 boards.

It said the proportion of women reached 32.1 per cent among FTSE 100 boards and 27.3 per cent in the FTSE 250, with both groups set to meet the government target of 33 per cent by 2020.

Separately, the government has today launched a consultation on preventing sexual harassment in the workplace.

As part of the consultation, the government said it was considering introducing specific clauses into the Equality Act covering harassment at work from third parties, and called for evidence on whether to extend the Act to cover volunteers and interns.

The government is also looking into whether to extend the three-month time limit for employment tribunal claims.

The launch of the consultation has been welcomed by the CIPD, which said it supported both strengthening protections against sexual harassment from third parties and an extension of the time limit for tribunals.

Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, said: “A whole range of scandals across the business, charity and political spheres have demonstrated that sexual harassment at work is still far too commonplace, so we welcome this consultation from the government. 

But he added: “While we welcome the focus on prevention of workplace harassment, we question whether or not introducing a new statutory duty on employers to prevent harassment will achieve the desired impact. Our view is that, as a first priority, we need stronger enforcement of the existing provisions of the Equality Act.”