As you may have seen in the news last week data was published by the government showing that more than a third of FTSE 350 board positions are now held by women. The number of women on boards has increased by 50% over the last 5 years which the government claims is a dramatic shift in representation at the very highest levels of British business. The data appears in the final report of the government-backed Hampton-Alexander Review which was launched in 2016 to encourage UK-listed companies to appoint more women to their boards and into senior leadership positions. The pattern over the past 5 years was summarised by Sky News:
Video – Sky News
The HR press covered this news of course. Personnel Today quoted Ann Cairns, chair of the 30% Club, warning that the latest report should not be cause for complacency. She pointed specifically at to the fact that many of these appointments are in non-executive board roles. She highlighted how the target of 33% women on those companies’ executive committees was missed substantially and the fact there are only 17 female CEOs across all 350 companies. People Management quotes Mary O’Connor, acting senior partner at KPMG and one of the sponsors of the report. She says women still face ‘structural and cultural barriers’ to senior roles and that it is vital to have a strong pipeline of female talent rising through the ranks and there is a general consensus that she is right about that.
So what can be done to address those structural and cultural barriers? The Executive Summary of the report make clear that most of the issues ‘are now known and out on the table albeit there is still some
way to go addressing them.’ So, on a practical level, are there any concrete, tangible steps that firms can take? It is a question I put to Helen Corden who joined me by video-link from Birmingham:
Helen Corden: "I think there are certain steps that can be taken and one of the most important, or tangible, actions that can be taken is making sure that senior leaders within business are accountable for making sure that more females within their organisations are succeeding to these top executive positions. So as a first step, it's all about the data, gathering the data, to make sure that females are progressing through the pipeline and then when you are appointing, or promoting, individuals to these top executive positions it is, perhaps, saying to the senior leadership team when promoting to these positions, or putting people forward, they have to put forward a gender-balanced shortlist for those positions and if that's not possible to explain why that's not possible, why within, for example, their particular part of the business there aren't those females who are coming through and who can progress to the next stage. One of the biggest things around accountability is perhaps peer pressure so, again, one of the things that organisations can do is to share data within the top leadership team about the number of females in those top positions so that that senior leadership team themselves can hold each other accountable and ask each other why aren't there the level of females, the numbers of females, within your division or within your team? What more can be done? I think if you have that potential peer pressure within the senior leadership team it will make senior managers sit up and think I've really got to address this, my peers are addressing this, and this is something that they're going to hold me accountable for and therefore I need to be able to demonstrate that I'm achieving this change in the same way that they are."
Joe Glavina: "There is evidence that the various decisions taken by the government and by employers during the pandemic have hit women particularly hard - decisions around furlough, redundancy and so on. Do you think there has been a disproportionate impact on women?"
Helen Corden: "I think that there has been a disproportionate impact on women. All the studies have shown that the greater burden around child care, around home schooling, about caring responsibility, even housework etcetera has disproportionately fallen on women and we don't know yet what the long term impact of that will be. I think good employers, good organisations, will be again collecting data in terms of their workforce to see how many women, as opposed to men, have been furloughed, looking at their redundancy figures, the breakdown of men and women who have been made redundant, the breakdown in terms of perhaps a reduction in hours - have more women requested a reduction in hours - because all of these things will potentially affect the pipeline of talent and will also potentially affect an organisation's gender pay going forward. So focusing on the data now will assist employers in thinking ahead in terms of what the potential impact may be on their gender pay gap and on their pipeline of talent going forward."
If you would like to take a look at the final report from the Hampton-Alexander Review you can. It is a very impressive publication running to 43 pages and packed with data and good advice. We have put a link to that in the transcript of this programme for you.
- Link to final report of the Hampton-Alexander Review