The government-backed Hampton-Alexander Review of gender composition on FTSE 350 boards published its final report on 24 February, with some positive news to close on.
According to the review’s data, its target of boosting female representation among the relevant firms to 33% by the end of 2020 was slightly eclipsed, with the final figure standing at 34.3%. In the narrower field of the FTSE 100, the results are even better, with those firms hitting the 33% mark almost a year ahead of schedule and now on 36.2%.
Perhaps even more gratifyingly, the era of tokenism in the FTSE 350 is all but finished: the number of so-called ‘One and Done’ boards – where a lone female has been appointed to provide an outward appearance of change – has fallen from 116 in 2015 to just 16 now. (Hampton-Alexander Review Five-Year Summary Report, 24 February 2021)
However, just because the review has issued its final report doesn’t mean that the effort it sparked is about to wind down – indeed, its own senior leaders and affiliates have indicated a strong desire for further improvements.
In a statement, KPMG UK acting senior partner Mary O’Connor said: “It’s hard to believe that as recently as 2011, 43% of the FTSE 350 still had all-male boards. Thankfully the representation of women on boards and in leadership positions has significantly improved in recent years, with this review having played a critical role in realising that.”
The review’s CEO Denise Wilson commented: “The lack of women in the boardroom is where it all started a decade ago, and it’s the area where we have seen the greatest progress. But now, we need to achieve the same – if not more – gains for women in leadership. The supply of capable, experienced women is full to overflowing. It is now for business to fully utilise a talent pool of educated, experienced women to their own benefit and that of the UK economy.”
O’Connor agreed. “Achieving the Review’s 33% target at boardroom level marks great progress,” she said. “But it’s vital we have a strong pipeline of female talent rising the ranks.”
She added: “While women now make up nearly a third of wider senior leadership roles, structural and cultural barriers still exist for women, as well as other underrepresented groups. Our collective efforts to truly eradicate those barriers and create an inclusive leadership culture don't stop here – this is where it intensifies.”
What should business leaders do to build on the review’s legacy?
The Institute of Leadership & Management’s head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “What the Hampton-Alexander Review shows is that if you set ambitions and targets in a certain domain – such as female representation on boards – and put energy and commitment into achieving them, it can be done. As Mary O’Connor notes, in the space of 10 years we’ve moved on dramatically from 43% all-male boards in the FTSE 350.
“But she makes two important points: firstly, it’s not over yet. We must maintain a pipeline of women who are able to join, or indeed follow on from, the women who have been appointed to boards in the time that the review was in progress. Secondly, we must recognise that while improved representation of one underrepresented group constitutes progress, there are still other underrepresented groups to consider.”
With that in mind, she adds: “Let’s hold on to the energy and commitment that drove the review forward and unlocked its achievements. We’ve done it for one underrepresented group. Now we must see the review as an important chapter in a continued effort, and use its momentum to write the next chapters. We can achieve similar successes if we invest the same ambition, energy and commitment into boosting the participation of other groups that are currently underrepresented.”
For further insights on the themes raised in this blog, check out the Institute’s resources on appreciating diversity