Business leaders unite to lead rallying call for more women in the boardroom

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Amy Lewis
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Business leaders across the UK are coming together as part of a new steering group to lead a review on the barriers women face when climbing the career ladder –and how these can be removed to increase female representation both in the boardroom and at executive level positions.

Headed up by Sir Philip Hampton, chair of GlaxoSmithKline, and Dame Helen Alexander, chair of UBM, the team hopes to raise the number of women who sit on the boards of FTSE 350 businesses to 33% by 2020.

Following similar work by Lord Davies, the number of women on FTSE 100 boards is currently 26% up from the tiny 12.5% of positions held by women before focused efforts to increase representation began.

The new group hopes to replicate the success of Lord Davies, to both keep the gender-balance momentum going at all levels of business, and expand efforts to the FTSE 350.

Laying out the goals of the Hampton-Alexander Review, the Corporate Governance Minister, Baroness Neville-Rolfe, notes: “We have seen an increase of 137% in the number of women on boards. Yet 15 boards in the FTSE 350 are still all male and women only count for 7% of executive directors.

“Philip Hampton and Helen Alexander will examine how to improve the representation of women in the executive layer and champion continued increases in the representation of women on boards across the FTSE 350. This will help to ensure a sustainable talent pool of women for board positions for both executive and non-executive positions in the future.”

It’s hoped that the findings and recommendations of the review will be presented to Government by the end of the year, with the aim of influencing future policy and initiatives that enable more women to advance to senior positions.

The current state of British politics and the potential new priorities of both FTSE CEOs and MPs at Westminster, however, has not gone unmentioned. Speaking on the need for leaders to not let Brexit distract from progress in gender balance, Melanie Richards, vice chair at KPMG (the business supporter of the review), says:

“Businesses are facing significant challenges following the EU referendum, but we cannot allow gender diversity to slip down the agenda. The conversations I have had with chief executives reveal the intention to tackle diversity is there, but this intent must continue to be matched by action if we are to make greater progress on this issue.

“I believe the barrier to female progression exists not in the boardroom, but deeper within the business. We need to redouble our efforts and look beyond the board to the executive layer, and rethink how we recruit, retain and promote our people. Only through this systemic change will we level the playing field for women working in business.”

News of the Hampton-Alexander Review comes as the new 2016 Female FTSE Board Report is released by Cranfield University, City University London and Queen Mary University London, revealing that although the overall percentage of women on FTSE boards has increased since 2015, the number of new appointments of women in senior roles is beginning to drop.

If the goals are to be met, the team will need to encourage constant turnover within the top levels of business in all sectors, with women winning one in every three new board positions. However, the 2016 Female FTSE Board Report has noted a recent drop in turnover rates, as fewer people leave their top jobs to join new companies. With it, this slow down of movement has brought a drop in the number of women winning the few new positions on offer.

“The focus on boards must be preserved [with the Hampton-Alexander Review] as the pace of change has not kept up after the Davies Closing Report,” warns Susan Vinnicombe CBE, Professor of Women and Leadership at Cranfield University and co-author of the  2016 Female FTSE Board Report.

“In order to hit the 33% board target by 2020, Chairmen and search consultants must ensure the board appointment process remains robust, transparent and gender-inclusive.”

“For change to be sustainable, we must focus on the pipeline and ensure that women can progress through senior management ranks,” adds Dr Ruth Sealy, senior lecturer in Organisational Psychology at City University London, also a co-author.

“Only 19.4% of FTSE 100 Executive Committee members are women, and women hold only 10 per cent of the most important senior executive and operational roles on these committees.”

The work and goals of the Hampton-Alexander Review will also be supported by Cilla Snowball, CBE, who has recently been appointed the new chair of the Government’s Women’s Business Council (WBC), as part of a shake-up which has also seen an increase in the number of men working with the WBC.

“I am delighted to be appointed new chair of the Women’s Business Council and I’m looking forward to joining forces with the Hampton-Alexander Review to increase the number of women leading our businesses,” she says in a statement released today.

“The refreshed Council will now extend its reach across more sectors than ever before; providing valuable insight into how to tackle the barriers to women’s progression and shining a light on the benefits to business of harnessing the skills, experience and talents of women throughout industry.”


Images: iStock


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Amy Lewis

Amy Lewis is a freelance writer and editor, a lover of strong tea, equally strong eyebrows, a collector of facial oils and a cat meme enthusiast. She covers everything from beauty and fashion to feminism and travel.