Leading firms 'well adrift' of target for women in top jobs

12 November 2019, 18:07 | Updated: 13 November 2019, 10:19

Half of the UK's leading firms are still "well adrift" of meeting a looming target for at least a third of executive positions to be held by women, a report has found.

The Hampton-Alexander review, which monitors gender balance in more than 20,000 senior leadership roles in UK-listed companies, said "surprisingly" there were still 44 all-male executive committees.

It warned that, unless half of all available posts go to women over the next year, the 33% goal would be missed by the 2020 deadline, when the 10-year review ends, and argued a "step-change" is needed.

The review found the proportion of women in senior leadership roles of FTSE 100 companies increased this year to 28.6%, up from 27% in 2018, while among the FTSE 250 it rose from 24.9% to 27.9%.

But the report said: "Around 175 companies are still well adrift from the 33% target and surprisingly there remain 44 all-male executive committees."

Review chairman Sir Philip Hampton said increasing the number of women in executive positions was "critical to achieving long-term gender balance".

He said: "We are still a long way from reaching the target for women in senior leadership roles below board level. Unless half of all appointments made this year go to women - our target for 2020 is not going to be met."

However, there was a more positive picture relating to women sitting on company boards.

If current progress continued, the review said the FTSE 350 - made up of the FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 indexes - was "on track" to meet the 33% target by the end of 2020 deadline.

The annual update showed women currently hold 32.4% of roles on FTSE 100 company boards - up from just over 30% last year and 12.5% eight years ago when the review deadline was imposed.

The strongest progress yet was found for FTSE 250 companies though they collectively lagged behind at 29.6%.

The review - named after its chairman, ex-GSK chair Sir Philip Hampton and Dame Helen Alexander, a former City grandee who died in 2017 - said its plea last year to so-called "one & done" firms to make a greater effort, was well received.

It reported that the number of companies in the FTSE 350 which have only one female board member fell by almost half to 39.

There were also only two firms - down from five in 2018 - with no female representatives.

They were named as property firm Daejan Holdings and Belfast-based Kainos - a digital technology specialist.

Denise Wilson, the chief executive of the Review, added: "There are over 900 women now serving on FTSE 350 boards, providing an ever-increasing pool of women with substantial board experience, yet only 25 women have been appointed into the Chair role, even fewer as women CEOs and showing little sign of change.

"Strong foundations have been laid and significant progress has been made since the journey began in earnest in 2011.

"The very senior jobs were always going to be the hardest of challenges, however a stronger focus is now required at every stage of the appointment process to address the reasons why top jobs aren't going to women."

There are currently five women running FTSE 100 firms though Alison Cooper is slated to leave tobacco firm Imperial Brands after nine years as its chief executive.

Severn Trent - led by Liv Garfield - recently appointed Christine Hodgson as chair.

The review identified the water firm as among the best performers in the gender diversity stakes.