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Review calls for more women at the top of FTSE 350 companies

Cherry Reynard
Written By:
Cherry Reynard

The UK’s largest companies are under pressure to promote more women to senior leadership roles, in a bid to make the UK a world-leader on gender diversity at the top of business.

Figures published today in the Hampton-Alexander Review 2017, chaired by Sir Philip Hampton and the late Dame Helen Alexander, reveal almost 28% of board positions in FTSE 100 companies are held by women – up from 12.5% in 2011. This puts FTSE 100 companies on track to meet the review’s 33% target for women on boards by 2020.

In that time the number of all-male FTSE 350 company boards fell to eight from 152. Sir Philip called on FTSE 350 companies to accelerate the pace of change, extending the 33% target to senior leadership positions of all FTSE 350 companies. He said that at least 40% of appointments to senior positions will have to be filled by women over the next three years if FTSE 350 firms are to hit the ambitious targets.

There are real incentives to hit gender diversity targets. Research by index provider MSCI shows companies in the MSCI World Index with strong female leadership generated a higher return on equity (a measure of how well a company is run) – 10.1% per year versus 7.4%.

Sir Philip said: “Some of our largest companies have made significant progress towards meeting these challenging targets, both on boards and in their leadership teams. We should be seeing all FTSE companies now making strides to improve the gender balance at the top.

“This year we have seen progress pick up on FTSE 100 boards and go slow elsewhere. We must now renew commitment to this important issue for UK business to fully harness the under-utilised potential of the many talented women in the workplace.”

Business minister Margot James said it was time for the business community to step up to the challenge to make the UK a world leader: “We have seen time and time again that our most successful companies are those that champion greater diversity and inclusion, and our largest companies are stepping up their efforts on this issue in order to reap both the societal and economic benefits.”

Lady Barbara Judge CBE, chairman of the Institute of Directors, said the next challenge was to create a step-change in the proportion of senior executive positions held by women. In this way, we can build a pipeline of female talent to consolidate and build on the improvements seen in the last few years.

All FTSE 100 companies, and 96% of FTSE 250 companies excluding investment trusts, voluntarily responded to the review’s requests for their gender diversity data.