The latest report from the Hampton-Alexander Review on the progress of women in UK boardrooms—with targets happily reached and exceeded—offers much to celebrate. But there is no mistaking its note of disappointment over the movement of women into leadership roles in executive teams.
The numbers speak for the themselves. Both the FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 have reached their 2020 targets of 33% of board roles being occupied by women. But when it comes to women in executive and direct report positions, the latest Hampton-Alexander report shows that targets have been missed.
Women now occupy 36.2% of FTSE 100 boardroom positions, significantly up on 2017’s 27.7%. In the FTSE 250 the figure is 33.2%, up from 22.8%.
But the ascendancy of women to executive jobs and the tier below lags behind. The FTSE 100 fell short of 33% this year with 30.6%, up from 28.6% last year. For the FTSE 250 the comparable figures are 28.5% and 27.9%, a near standstill in terms of year-on-year progress.
According to Denise Wilson, chief executive of the Hampton-Alexander Review, gains have to be made in leadership roles.”The supply of capable experienced women is full-to-overflowing. It is now for business to fully utilise a talent pool of educated experienced women to their own benefit and that of the UK economy,” she says in an introduction to the report.
Sir Philip Hampton, one of the joint founders of the review, agrees that more women in executive roles is now required if the presence of women at the highests levels is to be maintained.
“The progress has been strongest with non-executive positions on boards, but the coming years should see many more women taking top executive roles. That’s what is needed to sustain the change made,” he says.
‘A re-doubling of efforts is needed’
The explanation is that while turnover in board positions has been high, at around 30%, the appointment rate of women to senior leadership has been relatively low—36% in the FTSE 100 and 34% in the FTSE 250.
With two-thirds of all available leadership opportunities handed to men that “in part explains slow progress overall”, the report says.
“Although the drive to increase women in leadership started later than the focus on boards, it is clear a re-doubling of efforts is needed, in particular in the FTSE 250,” the report adds. “There is more to do on executive committees, in key function roles—the financial director, the chief information officer and the all-important top job, the CEO.”
Those who have campaigned for improved representation on boards agree there is more to be done. Fiona Hathorn, chief executive of Women on Boards, says: “We now know that scrutiny and focus on diversity measurements can lead to significant progress.
“This is welcome, particularly as the alternative approach of mandatory quotas, being employed in some European countries and the US states has many drawbacks to my mind.
“However, now is no time to take our foot off the gas. New appointments are still majority male; female representation is far from where it needs to be in executive teams, and that is to say nothing of the inching progress of ethnic diversity.”
Leadership success stories
Some companies have fared better when it comes to finding women for leadership jobs. At Next, the fashion retailer, women occupy 53.8% of combined executive and direct report roles. Burberry, another fashion brand, is not far behind on 50.4%.
However, FTSE 250 real estate company Shaftsbury does even better, with 61.3% of women holding executive jobs or direct report roles.
The Hampton-Alexander report does not hold back from naming those who have done badly. Of those, mining giant Glencore scores worst, with just 10.6% of leadership jobs held by women.
On an international basis, the FTSE 100 is mid-table for boardrooms as a whole. France leads with women holding 43.8% of board jobs in the CAC 40. Norway’s OBX 25 is on 39.5%. Both France and Norway operate mandatory quotas. Germany’s DAX 30 trails the leading European countries with 30.2%.
Female representation on boards has been transformed in the years since 2010 when the Davis Review set a 25% target of women on boards. When the Hampton-Alexander Review was launched in 2016 representation was at 26.6%. The target of 33% overall has now been reached. But female representation among executive teams and their direct reports still has some way to go. While this may be the last year of the Hampton-Alexander review, there remains a job of work to be done.