If they maintain their current rate of progress, the FTSE 350 are on track to meet the 33% target for women on boards by the end of 2020, as set by The Hampton-Alexander Review – that’s according to the Review’s latest figures, published yesterday. 
Set to bow out next year after driving and monitoring progress on the issue since 2016, the Review reports that the FTSE 100 are set to hit the target ahead of schedule, with their female board composition now standing at 32.4%. Widening the field, the FTSE 250 have reached 29.6%: up from 24.9% last year, and just 7.8% in 2011.
However, Review chair Sir Philip Hampton noted: “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.”
The Review defines senior leadership roles as members of the executive committee, plus their direct reports. As numbers currently stand, the FTSE 100 has reached a female senior-leadership level of 28.6% (up from 27% last year), with the FTSE 250 at 27.9% (up from 2018’s level of 24.9%). Overall, the FTSE 350 has 44 all-male executive committees, down from 50 in 2018.
Review chief executive Denise Wilson said: “Strong foundations have been laid and significant progress has been made since the journey began in earnest [with the preceding Davies Review] 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”
Chris Cummings, chief executive of Review supporter the Investment Association, added: “Great progress is being made with women on boards, but it’s time for us to aim higher. This pace of change now needs to extend beyond the board to senior executive leadership roles if businesses are to demonstrate their diversity at all levels. Investors have been consistent in their demands for greater diversity. It’s not just a nice to have. The research is clear: firms with diverse boards and management teams make better decisions, drive innovation and outperform their less diverse peers.”
Reacting to the figures in a separate statement, Cranfield University’s professor of women and leadership Sue Vinnicombe acknowledged the challenge of getting more women into the executive pipeline, but pointed out: “If FTSE 350 companies examined the composition of their executive committees and decided to include more of their functional directors, then this would quickly increase the number of women on them, as there are many women in HR and legal roles.”
Which other measures could these firms take?
The Institute of Leadership & Management’s head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “The issue I have with Professor Vinnicombe’s suggestion that firms could loop in non-mainstream roles that are more likely to be held by women is that it really isn’t changing the rules. It’s not addressing the talent pipeline. It’s not addressing the problem of the ‘broken rung’ – ie, that women aren’t making that vital transition from technical roles into management and leadership positions.”
She notes: “One inspirational clarion call for inclusion that we would do well to pick up on here is retired US soccer champion Abby Wambach’s book Wolfpack.  In her playing career, Wambach distinguished herself by scoring the greatest number of international goals in either the male or female sport. The two, main points that emerge from her book are that i) if we keep on playing by the same old rules, we won’t change the game, and ii) believe in yourself to the extent that you demand the ball – in other words, you don’t wait to be offered something; you make a case for why you deserve to have it.”
Cooper adds: “While we don’t want to put too much responsibility for the advancement of all women upon the shoulders of the few women who are already there, I would certainly highlight the important contribution that role models and mentors can make. In explaining her central idea of ‘the pack’, Wambach highlights the point that women don’t want to be the exception – instead, our purpose should be to achieve a critical mass, in critical roles.
“That involves communicating the nature of leadership and what it entails – as well as a sense of aspiration – to very young women, so they can nurture strong ideas of what is possible in their lives and careers.”
For further insights on the themes raised in this blog, check out the Institute’s resources on appreciating diversity