One and done: Are gender targets a tick-box exercise?

Disappointing is perhaps how best to describe the contents of the 2018 Hampton-Alexander Review, which reports on female representation on company boards and executive pipeline.

The review, which is published annually, was released this week. The target set by Hampton-Alexander is 33% representation of women on the boards of the FTSE 350 by 2020. Only 19 of the FTSE 100 companies have achieved the target. A further 21 companies are identified as having the potential to achieve the target by the 2020 deadline; leaving 59 with some way to go.

Given the ever-increasingly high profile of diversity and the media focus on issues such as #metoo and NDAs, we might be forgiven for hoping for more progress in the corporate world. But the statistics do not make for encouraging reading:

  • Progress in female representation on boards since last year is barely 2%.
  • There are only 12 female CEOs within the FTSE 350. This has fallen from 15 in 2017.
  • The number of female Chairs has increased from 17, but only to 22.
  • There continue to be 5 companies in the FTSE 350 with a male only board.

Progress is glacial, particularly in the FTSE 250.  To achieve the 33% target at least one in every two appointments between now and October 2020 would need to go to a woman.  This would entail a radical shift in mindset.

One and done” is how the report refers to the 75 boards which have only one female board member. The statistic suggests that some companies are failing to truly engage with diversity and approaching it as an admin requirement to be met and then disregarded.  Inga Beale, the outgoing CEO of Lloyds of London, has been quoted as saying that women CEOs know their successors will be men.  She implies that having appointed a female CEO once, these companies feel they have done enough. 

Particularly disheartening are the figures relating to the pipeline of senior women. Less than 28% of direct reports to board members are held by women.  Accepting that change evolves gradually, we might have hoped that the gender balance of potential successors to the board would look a lot healthier.  Instead it seems that progress towards the 33% target may well be reversed in the short term.

But perhaps these figures ought to be seen in a broader context.  At the beginning of 2011, female representation on boards was 12.5%. Some six years later this has increased to over 30%. There is no denying that this is progress.  Some companies may be approaching the target as a box-ticking exercise but, if this yields overall progress, we can only hope that a more enlightened attitude will follow.