Some FTSE firms still taking "one and done" approach to women on boards

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There are still a large number of FTSE 350 firms with just one woman on their boards, according to the Hampton-Alexander Review’s mid-year update

It has revealed that since the review and the Investment Association wrote to 69 companies with one woman or less on the board outlining their concerns in mid-March this year, 20 have now appointed women but 14 companies have not yet responded.

Among these 14 are publicly-traded investment trust Baillie Gifford Japan Trust and gambling company The Rank Group, whose subsidiaries include Mecca Bingo and Grosvenor Casinos.

The review also reported, however, that there are now just four FTSE 350 companies that have all-male boards, down from 152 in 2011.

It also reported that FTSE 250 companies could meet the 33% target for women on boards if progress matches the same gains made over the last three years. Almost a third (32.1%) of FTSE 100 board positions are held by women, up from 12.5% in 2011. Meanwhile in the FTSE 250 figures have jumped from 24.9% to 27.5%.

Launched in 2016, the government-backed independent Hampton-Alexander Review set FTSE 350 businesses a target of having 33% of all board and senior leadership positions held by women by the end of 2020.

However, a number of organisations have been accused of taking a tokenistic approach towards the target. Some FTSE companies are “intentionally blocking progress”, with others taking a "one and done" approach, chief executive of the Hampton-Alexander review Denise Wilson, told The Telegraph.

There are “40 or 50” companies which have just one woman on their board, Wilson said. All big firms "know the right lines to say" when asked about gender diversity, she added, but despite the "warm words" and rhetoric "many don't get it at all".

Minister for small business, consumers and corporate responsibility Kelly Tolhurst said that firms must do more to increase the number of women in senior positions: “These latest figures show there are now more women than ever before at the top of UK business, and I want to see companies do all they can to increase the numbers further.

“Diversity makes good business sense and those who fail to see this as a priority are missing out on the benefits that diverse leadership brings.”

Chris Cummings, chief executive of the Investment Association, said that the latest findings show businesses still have work to do.

“Investors want to invest in businesses that demonstrate they are diverse and inclusive because this leads to better decision-making and avoids group-think. There has been good progress made; with 20 companies that we wrote to responding by appointing another woman to their board. This is a sign that many companies are getting the message, but there is still more work to do," he said.

“It is especially disappointing that 14 companies are still falling so far short of shareholder expectations by having just a single woman on their board. Adopting this ‘one and done’ attitude is not good enough, and investors expect companies to up their game and explain clearly how they will set this right going forward.”

Teresa Boughey, founder and CEO of Jungle HR, said that organisations should look to their hiring processes and structures within the workplace. "To increase the presence of senior women in leadership roles it should not be tokenism, it should be on candidate ability and companies should challenge their recruitment partners to support them in offering the widest possible [selection of] candidates. However, when appointments are made individuals need to be set up for success. The organisational environment needs to be conducive for modern day working," she said.

"Accessible role models should also be in place. If organisations can only demonstrate one woman holding a senior position then it can either show that getting to a senior level is unachievable or creates unnecessary competition further down the hierarchy."

Boughey added that celebrating organisations' success is also important, however: "I think we also need to showcase and celebrate those organisations that are making great progress – the change won’t happen overnight and it will take time. Celebrating the great things some companies are doing will highlight those that are not even more."

The remaining four companies with all-male boards are:

  • Daejan Holdings
  • TR Property Investments
  • Ferrexpo
  • Kainos Group (joined the FTSE on 24 June)

The 14 companies that have not responded to letters from the review are:

  • Baillie Gifford Japan Trust
  • BCA Marketplace
  • Energean Oil & Gas
  • Ferrexpo
  • Grafton Group
  • Herald Investment Trust
  • Hochschild Mining
  • Jupiter European Opportunities Trust
  • Rank Group
  • Riverstone Energy
  • Sequoia Economic Infrastructure Income Fund
  • Telecom Plus
  • TR Property Investments
  • Tritax Big Box REIT

The 2019 Hampton-Alexander Report will be published on 13 November 2019.

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