More than 150 large companies still missing leadership gender targets

FTSE 350 firms failing on female representation at board level, as experts warn quotas may be the only way to ensure greater diversity

More than 150 of the UK’s largest businesses are still failing to meet boardroom diversity targets, according to new figures which have led to renewed calls for employers to recognise the wider business and commercial benefits of diversity.

More than four in 10 FTSE 350 firms – 153 in total – have yet to reach The 30% Club’s target of 30 per cent female representation at board level, despite women now accounting for 30 per cent of individual director positions across the top listed firms.

In a new report entitled Are You Missing Millions?, the campaign group called on businesses to consider gender beyond the ‘normal’ scope of HR, and think about how it affects their wider business strategy – including whether business investments were improving gender equality; how business processes can be de-biased; and how to make gender considerations normal business practice.

The report came a month after The 30% Club announced its initial target of 30 per cent female representation across FTSE 350 boardrooms had been met on an aggregated basis, with women holding 903 directorship positions out of a total of 3,008. However, not all organisations have been quick to improve diversity, with many top firms accused of adopting a ‘one and done’ approach to appointing women to their boards.

Dr Jill Miller, diversity and inclusion adviser at the CIPD, said organisation-wide efforts were required to highlight and challenge the culture, systems and processes that were preventing gender equality taking place at sufficient pace.

“HR teams have a pivotal role in bringing transparency to the issues at play through their workforce data and looking at every stage of the employee lifecycle to ensure people management practices are fair and inclusive,” Miller said. “For example, ascertaining the number of men and women applying for each role and who gets the job and looking for any ‘cliff-edge’ points in careers when women tend to leave the organisation.”

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She also highlighted that a lack of flexible working arrangements was a “significant barrier” both to women’s access to work and their career progression, particularly as there had traditionally been a “dearth” of flexible working options at senior levels.

The report was produced by The 30% Club’s strategy best practices working group, in conjunction with PwC, and aimed to support businesses to seek commercial benefit by taking a more “systematic and enterprise-wide approach” to gender, “far beyond the traditional focus within HR”.

Brenda Trenowden CBE, partner at PwC and global co-chair of The 30% Club, said: “Our report shares the commercial imperative for putting a gender lens on all business activities and includes thought-provoking examples of the kinds of opportunities companies may have.

“Since its inception, The 30% Club has called for more diverse thinking in business because it makes good business sense,” Trenowden added, warning that businesses slow to adopt a more gender-diverse approach were at risk of being left behind in the “current climate of purpose-led organisations”.

Commenting on the findings, Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said it was worrying to see so many companies still falling short of their gender diversity targets and called for businesses to introduce quotas. 

“What we know is that the voluntary approach can only take you so far,” Smethers said. “If we want to speed up change, it’s time for quotas.”

On Wednesday this week, the latest report from the Hampton-Alexander review – the government backed review into gender equality in leadership of FTSE 350 firms – will be released.