Women still being denied top jobs at UK firms

Although the UK is poised to meet its target of getting more women on the boards of the country's largest companies, there is "little sign of change" in the number of females appointed to top jobs, according to a government-backed review.

The latest report from the Hampton-Alexander Review said that a "step change" was necessary to enable women to fill the top roles in businesses. Among FTSE 350 companies, it found only 25 were chaired by women, with even fewer filling chief executive roles.Nevertheless, the report found that FTSE 100 companies were on track to achieve the target - first set in 2011 - of having women occupying a third of board seats by the end of 2020.Wednesday's report showed 32.4 per cent of all FTSE 100 board positions were now held by women, up from 30.2 per cent a year ago. Among FTSE 250 businesses, the figure stood at 29.6 per cent, up from 24.9 per cent last year, although the report found "not all companies are making the same efforts".Sir Philip Hampton, who chairs the review, said:  "This is the penultimate Hampton-Alexander report and we enter our final year with great momentum behind us. If this progress continues into 2020, our targets for women on boards will be met."Whilst this is a key indicator of change at the top, strengthening the number of women in executive positions is critical to achieving long-term gender balance."Denise Wilson, chief executive of the review, added: "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."
Jill Miller, diversity and inclusion adviser for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), said that while it was encouraging to see the improved numbers of women in leadership roles, there was "still a long way to go" for women to achieve boardroom equality.She added: “Representation of women in executive roles, rather than non-executive roles, is still far too low and needs to be addressed as a priority. The ongoing failure to address this highlights that too few businesses are thinking about talent planning and how they can make senior roles more accessible and attractive to women.
"However, the extension of the director target to also include their direct reports is a positive step towards addressing this as it will encourage businesses to think seriously about building sustainable talent pipelines rather than making ad-hoc token gestures.“Organisations won’t truly benefit from a gender diverse workforce if women are still under-represented in operational roles which have day-to-day influence and decision-making power."To address this, we recommend the establishment of a voluntary target for 20 per cent of FTSE 350 board-level executive directors to be women by 2025 as a stepping stone towards achieving equal gender representation on boards."Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said businesses were building on last year's progress and continuing to increase diversity in the boardroom.
"The benefits of a diverse boardroom have been proven many times, from improved decision making to increased profits. If all male boards are to become a thing of the past, firms must not take their foot off the pedal," she said."We are still seeing too few women in senior leadership positions, whether as chief executive or running divisions. "Heading into 2020, all firms should ensure they have diverse shortlists and that they're doing everything possible to support people from all walks of life in their careers, from ground floor to boardroom."

Read more news and views, from David Sapsted.

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