There are now no FTSE 350 companies with an all-male board, new data has revealed, but campaigners stress the need for cautious optimism as the Covid crisis is threatening progress made in other areas of women’s equality.
According to analysis of BoardEx figures by The 30% Club, as of 16 February, there was at least one woman on every company board among the top 350 companies listed in the UK, with women holding a total of 34 per cent of board seats across these firms.
Ann Cairns, global chair of The 30% Club and executive vice chair of Mastercard, said the news was “cause for celebration, particularly at a time when Covid-19 threatens progress in women’s equality”.
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But, she warned: “There is still lots more work to be done to make sure all-male boards remain a thing of the past. Last year’s fleeting experience of their disappearance across the FTSE 350 proves how fragile progress in the UK’s corporate gender diversity remains.”
All-male boards had briefly disappeared before for May 2020, before they returned a month later.
Cairns also noted there was more work to do to bring female representation up to parity on individual boards and to boost the number of female chairs. Across the FTSE 350 there are just 41 female chairs, 50 female CFOs and 17 female CEOs. Moreover, only 2.9 per cent of board positions were held by women of colour.
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Earlier this month, figures from the Parker review into the ethnic diversity of UK boards found there were 178 directors of colour across the FTSE 350, accounting for just 7.5 per cent of positions where the ethnicity of the director is known.
Sir John Parker, chair of the review, warned that failure to act on diversity could be damaging to companies’ reputations and weaken stakeholder confidence. “Many of those who invest in us and trust us as our customers are now monitoring our performance on leadership diversity, because they see it as a sign of whether we are truly ready to face up to the challenge of the modern world,” he said.
Recent research from the CIPD found that a quarter of employers (24 per cent) were not making any effort to attract and recruit more diverse candidates to top-level roles.
Louise Shaw, director of resourcing transformation at Omni RMS, told People Management that recruiting diverse talent was only the start of the process. She said: “Organisations need to be reporting externally on their true effectiveness by measuring inclusive engagement, retention and career development. This is what will give organisations full visibility of what is and isn’t working so they can make informed changes and realise the business benefits.