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Rise in FTSE women leaders but 'shocking' lack of diversity

Kate Dodd tells HRNews about the latest findings of the government-backed FTSE Women Leaders Review

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  • Transcript

    Women now hold nearly 40% of FTSE 100 leadership roles compared with 12.5% a decade ago, but here’s a long way still to go. That is the consensus following publication of the government-backed FTSE Women Leaders Review. It shows that in 2021 women held 39.1% of board positions among FTSE 100 companies, 36.8% in the FTSE 250, and 37.6% of positions among the FTSE 350.

    However, as Personnel Today reports the Review recognises more work needs to be done and sets out 4 central recommendations for 2025. They are:

    - The voluntary target for FTSE350 Boards & for FTSE 350 Leadership teams is increased to a minimum of 40% women’s representation by the end of 2025

    - FTSE 350 companies should have at least one woman in the Chair, Senior Independent Director role on the Board and/or one woman in the Chief Executive Officer or Finance Director role by the end of 2025

    - Key stakeholders should continue to set best-practice guidelines or use alternative mechanisms to encourage any FTSE 350 Board that has not yet achieved the previous 33% target for the end of 2020, to do so

    - The scope of the Review is extended beyond FTSE 350 companies to include the largest 50 private companies in the UK by sales

    The Guardian focuses on what the Fawcett Society are saying about it, which is despite the headlines about progress, there remains a shocking lack of diversity. Jemima Olchawski, the Fawcett Society’s chief executive, is quoted saying how in the majority of boardrooms men continue to be overrepresented. Women make up only eight of the chief executives at the UK’s top 100 listed companies, showing that while progress is being made on gender targets, advances on women in senior leadership roles have stalled.

    Laura Whitcombe, a global campaign manager at the 30% Club, points out that whilst there has been some great progress at board level there has been little progress at the executive level. She says: ‘The pipeline of women progressing throughout organisations – right up to the top, to those executives that form the executive committee – that pipeline has got a bottleneck.’ Women in boardroom roles for the top 250 companies is lower, at 36.8%, compared with 33.2% in 2020. Olchawski said it is ‘shocking’” there are no women of colour on the FTSE 100 chief executive list. She says: ‘We must break down the barriers that prevent women, in all their diversity, rising to the top’.

    So, let’s get a view on this from our diversity and inclusion specialist, Kate Dodd. Kate joined me by video-link from Manchester to discuss it. I started by asking what she makes of the report:

    Kate Dodd: “I think it’s great to see that there has been this increase in the number of women holding these positions but my kind of challenge to that is, when you look at the numbers, how many of those are actually operational management positions and how many of them are non-executive directorships? It seems to me, and this is borne out by the numbers, that actually a huge number of women who are on boards are appointed into non-executive directorship roles, which is fantastic, but what we're not seeing there is that those women actually have day-to-day power and influence within that organisation aside from, of course, the influence that they can have in in those board meetings and, actually, that's borne out because, obviously, these figures are looking at the FTSE 100 and then, of course, the FTSE 350 is a different matter.”

    Joe Glavina: “The Fawcett Society is quoted in the Guardian saying this report fails to highlight what they say is a shocking lack of diversity. What do you make of that?”

    Kate Dodd: “That is really probably the most depressing thing in these figures is actually, yes, there are more women on boards, but those women are predominantly white women and there is really very little representation of women of colour of women who are women with disabilities and women who are LGBTQ. So, looking in those figures, obviously, not that data isn't always readily available, but it appears to have very low representation. For example, we know already that only 8% of CEOs in the FTSE 100 are women, 8%, so it is as low as that still in the FTSE 100 and of that 8% none of those women are from minority ethnic backgrounds.”

    Joe Glavina: “So what’s your message to HR, Kate?”

    Kate Dodd: “I think my message to HR, and the thing that we're talking to our clients about, is really twofold. Firstly, it's going back to the recommendations that have been made to the FTSE 350 which is don't just appoint women onto your boards. Obviously, that's a great thing to do, but appoint them into actual management positions. So, there is a suggestion for the 350 that women should either be a chair or CEO or an FD role. So, the challenge I would put back to HR teams is when they're talking and advising that their boards is to say, where are the women in practical leadership and management positions? Secondly, challenging themselves, or their business, their recruiters, those people who were doing that that recruitment for them around. Where are the women? Where are diverse women within that cohort? Where are the women of colour those with disabilities, LGBTQ etcetera because, otherwise, if you have only got a handful of women who are non-executive directors, who are women but don't have any other diversity characteristics, then that can be seen as being virtue signalling. It’s basically saying to the outside world, you know, this is great, we've got women, but really how much power do they have and the risk of that, of course, is - and I've spoken before I'm a huge fan of role modelling - the risk mis that they are not then providing the role models that you need to create that that that actual pipeline of talent within your own business.”

    A reminder. The FTSE Women Leaders Review is an independent, business-led framework supported by the Government and it sets recommendations for Britain’s largest companies to improve the representation of women on boards and in leadership positions. It builds on the work done over the past 10 years by both the Hampton-Alexander and Davies Reviews. This is their first report – published on 22 February – and we have put a link to it in the transcript of this programme.


    FTSE Women Leaders

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