FTSE firms chastised for ‘one and done’ approach to boardroom diversity

Women now fill 32.1 per cent of FTSE 100 boardroom seats, but review warns against tokenistic attitude in some companies

FTSE 350 companies are on track to meet the government’s target of having a third of board seats occupied by women – but four firms still have all-male boards and another 14 have been chastised for only having a single woman in their top leadership team.

The latest figures from the government-backed Hampton-Alexander Review of women in the boardroom showed 32.1 per cent of board positions across the top 100 listed firms in 2018 were held by women – a vast improvement on just 12.5 per cent in 2011.

The figures also showed the number of boardroom seats held by women in FTSE 250 firms increased to 27.5 per cent, up from 24.9 per cent, and the review said firms across the FTSE 350 were expected to meet their target of 33 per cent by 2020 if the rate of growth over the last three years continued.

However, Sir Philip Hampton, chair of the review, warned there were still too many firms with only one woman on their board, and four companies in the FTSE 250 had no women at all at the top table.

“The FTSE 250 is working hard to catch up but still too many boards have only one woman and remarkably today there are four all-male boards in the FTSE 250,” he said.

Hampton added: “We are expecting to see good progress in the number of women appointed into senior leadership roles this year, with those companies having worked hard for several years exceeding the 33 per cent target and reaping the benefits.”

Dr Jill Miller, CIPD diversity and inclusion adviser, said it was “really encouraging” the FTSE 100 looked like it was going to reach its target. “Ultimately, this is all about enabling talented people to reach the top of their game. It’s the right thing to do but also it makes clear business sense because otherwise we are neglecting a huge talent pool and under-utilising skills,” she said.

Miller said it was important for businesses to get to the grassroots of why women weren’t achieving senior roles and to ensure there was a strong pipeline of female talent coming through. She said businesses needed to challenge occupational segregation and stereotypes and look at HR data to identify where the blockers were.

“Often we’re sitting on a huge wealth of data, it’s just not mined. Look at what people are telling you in exit interviews: why are they leaving?” she said

“If you’re noticing a point in the organisation that’s a glass ceiling or a sticky floor, work out which one it is. Is there something blocking women from moving up or is it something where women are reluctantly choosing not to move up because there might not be the flexibility they require at senior level?”

Miller added it was important businesses take action based on what their data was telling them.

The Hampton-Alexander Review found four companies – Daejan Holdings, TR Property Investments, Ferrexpo and Kainos Group all had male-only boards – and also released a list of 14 companies that had not responded to letters jointly written by the review and the Investment Association (IA) outlining concerns over the lack of diversity on their boards.

Chris Cummings, chief executive of the IA, said: “It is especially disappointing that 14 companies are still falling so far short of shareholder expectations by having just a single woman on their board.

“Adopting this ‘one and done’ attitude is not good enough, and investors expect companies to up their game and explain clearly how they will set this right going forward.”