UK makes progress on improving diversity in the boardroom


Before having children more than two decades ago, Sheila Flavell was managing 600 people for an airline in the Middle East. Afterwards, back in the UK, the best job she could get was a part-time role as a waitress.

“There was me at the top of my game out there in the Middle East and I came back and had ‘useless mother’ stamped on my forehead. I went from being a businesswoman to feeling deflated. Once I declared I had children, I was rejected many times over,” she said.

After joining FDM Group, an IT support specialist, when it was a start-up, Ms Flavell is now chief operating officer of the FTSE 250 company. She said that companies need to work hard to encourage women into senior jobs.

Research out this week shows that the UK is making progress when it comes to improving diversity in the boardroom.

According to Cranfield University, which has been compiling data for the past 20 years, 29 per cent of FTSE 100 directors are women, up from 27.7 per cent last year. All FTSE 100 companies have at least one female director, and at a third of them more than 33 per cent of the directors are women.

But those figures only tell part of the story. While the number of female non-executives has risen steadily, the same cannot be said for executive directors. Just under 10 per cent of FTSE 100 executive directors are female. For non-executives, the figure is 35 per cent. “The proportion of women at executive level has not increased in the past ten years,” said Professor Ruth Sealey, one of the report’s authors, at this week’s launch. “Women are less likely than men to be promoted to executive roles — they have to change companies to get that recognition.” Progress has also been slower in the FTSE 250 — consisting of slightly smaller companies — than it has been at the FTSE 100, according to Cranfield’s data. Just 6.4 per cent of executive directors in the FTSE 250 are women.

A similar report also out this week from The Pipeline, a consultancy specialising in diversity, found that 95 per cent of chairs on boards were men.

“The face of leadership in this country is still very male and very white,” said Sir Philip Hampton, chair of the government-backed Hampton-Alexander Review into gender balance in FTSE companies. “That is very different from the face of capability.” He added: “We still have hundreds of companies that don’t seem to be switched on to this. Sometimes the reasons they give are between flimsy and pathetic.” Some countries, such as Norway, France and Germany, have imposed formal quotas or targets for the number of women in the boardroom. They have had some success. According to data compiled by the Hampton Alexander review last year, boardroom diversity is better in Norway and France than it is in the UK.

But that is not the whole story. The UK, where there are no quotas, still did better than Germany and Spain, where there are.

The use of formal quotas is not universally popular. “I hate quotas and targets,” said Jane Curtis, a senior partner at Aon, a pension consultancy, who also sits on the board of Scottish Widows. “Our abilities and skills should speak for themselves.”

Instead, Ms Curtis said that the need for diversity has to be embedded in the people who do the recruiting. “There are still people who recruit in their own mould,” she said. “I’d really encourage people to think about the benefits of diversity of thought.”

Brenda Trenowden, an executive at ANZ Bank and who is also global chair of the 30 per cent Club, which campaigns for more women on boards, said that recruitment firms also need to change.

“Within the search community, there is a sense that people don’t think outside the box. Part of that is how people are remunerated, they are looking to fill a slot as fast and easy as possible. We’re just replicating exactly what’s gone before,” she said.

It is not just recruitment that needs to change though. Diageo, the global drinks group, scored highly in Cranfield University’s research. More than half of the people on its board of directors are women, while its gender pay gap — the difference between the mean pay of men and women — is also very low.

Mairéad Nayager, Diageo’s human resources director, said: “It starts with commitment at the top. We’ve set out clear and ambitious targets for what we want to achieve. [Chief executive] Ivan Menezes is a very active advocate and has a personal commitment.” She added that coaching and mentoring is also critical to help women advance their careers — as it has helped her in her journey through the ranks at Diageo.

“I have experienced self doubt, and that’s when I would have been nudged or coached to believe in myself and pushed myself forward for roles that I wouldn’t necessarily have gone for.”

Ms Flavell at FDM said that there is still a long way to go to improve female representation on FTSE 350 executive committees: “It’s really pathetic. It’s a poor representation of the amazing talented women that there are in the United Kingdom.”

Source: Financial Times



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