UK listed companies start to make progress towards equal representation

Out-Law News | 20 Nov 2019 | 11:46 am | 2 min. read

The largest listed UK companies are beginning to make real progress towards equal representation of men and women on boards and in boardrooms, according to the latest findings of a government body.

The fourth report of the Hampton-Alexander Review (80 page / 4.9MB PDF) revealed that all of the FTSE 350 are set to achieve the target of 33% of leadership positions to be held by women by the end of 2020. Half of all FTSE 100 boards, and just under half of the FTSE 250, have already met or exceeded the target.

More than 30% of board positions in the FTSE 350 are now held by women and only two FTSE 350 boards are now made up of only men.

Progress in increasing the number of women on executive committees and their direct reports to 33% of these positions is slower. The number of women in these positions in the FTSE 100 has risen from 27% to 28.6% in the past year, and from 24.9% to 27.9% in the FTSE 250. However, the review said the appointment rate of women was still too low and around two-thirds of all available roles were still going to men.

The review warned that unless the appointment rate of women was nearer 50% in the coming year, up from 36%, the FTSE 350 would not achieve the target by the end of 2020.

According to corporate governance expert Tom Proverbs-Garbett of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, the focus on advancing diversity in UK business leadership would continue to be a priority.

“The conversation about diversity continues, but the direction of travel is clear,” Proverbs-Garbett said.

“It is interesting to note that, in the context of marked improvement in the FTSE 250, the review considers that efforts made in conjunction with the Investment Association early in 2019 to challenge those boards with only one woman director have paid dividends. Around 35 of those companies have added at least one woman to their boards in the last six months. Whether this success in identifying and challenging individual boards marks an age of more interventionist commentary, time will tell,” Proverbs-Garbett said.

“The tone of the review is positive, while calling for further action. Chairs and CEOs are still overwhelmingly male and it appears that while attention has been focused on board-level appointments, no doubt aided by the external pressure being applied, it remains the case that the number of women being appointed to senior leadership roles in the FTSE 100 is low,” Proverbs-Garbett said.

The review’s chair, Philip Hampton, said the past year was a “good year” but noted that women were starting from low numbers in many areas “and there are some elements of the data that seem harder to shift”. He said chairmen and chief executives were still overwhelmingly male, but expected numbers of women in these roles to rise in coming years.

The review also ranked companies by the proportion of women in senior leadership roles. Only four FTSE 350 companies had a majority of women on their executive committee and direct reports – Burberry Group and clothing chain Next in the FTSE 100, and real estate companies Shaftesbury and Capital & County Properties in the FTSE 250.

For the first time, the review looked at key functional roles in listed companies. Within the FTSE 100, human resources directors were most likely to be female, with women holding 66% of this position. Some 40% of company secretaries are women, and 37% of those holding a combined general counsel and company secretary role. Just 29% of general counsel who do not have company secretarial responsibilities are women, and only 17% of chief information officers and 15% of finance directors.

The number of women in these roles in the FTSE 250 is similar, although 54% of FTSE 250 company secretaries are female.