All-male shortlists ‘have no place’ in companies trying to improve diversity, says Hampton-Alexander CEO

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The CEO of the influential Hampton-Alexander Review is calling on companies to reconsider their recruitment practices, after figures released yesterday revealed that two in five appointments to FTSE 350 boards must go to women to meet government-backed diversity targets.

Launched in 2016, the review aims to have 33 per cent of FTSE 350 board positions held by women by 2020. However, Denise Wilson, CEO of the review, told People Management that around 235 additional women need to be appointed to FTSE 350 boards over the next two years to reach that target.

“Many companies are already taking great strides to help accelerate women’s progression in leadership roles,” Wilson said. “However, not all companies are doing enough, which is why we are keen to share good practice lessons learnt via our reporting mechanisms, draw attention to examples of what works and emerging research. All-male shortlists should have no place in an organisation that needs to improve its gender balance.”

Figures published yesterday, released to coincide with the review’s halfway point, revealed that women held around a quarter (25.5 per cent) of board positions in FTSE 350 companies, up slightly from 24.5 per cent in October 2017.

Claire McCartney, diversity and inclusion adviser at the CIPD, welcomed the review’s focus on promoting board-level gender diversity, adding that HR had a significant role to play in helping build inclusive cultures.

“We need to also be placing much more focus on women in active, observable leadership positions,” McCartney said. “Organisations can do this by focusing much more on what is being done to carve a path for women already in the organisation to rise up the ranks to these levels.”

Meanwhile, Chloe Chambraud, gender equality director at Business in the Community, said employers needed clear action plans to address the gender diversity gap at all levels of their organisation, not just the board.

“This includes setting public targets, closely monitoring the proportion of women, encouraging diversity in applications and introducing transparency around board appointments and progression processes,” she said.

Yesterday’s report also showed that FTSE 100 companies were on track to reach the 33 per cent target, as the number of women on boards increased to 29 per cent from 27.7 per cent last October.

But Michelle Chance, partner and head of the London employment team at international law firm Womble Bond Dickinson, raised concerns over the number of companies that had women on their non-executive teams but not their executive boards, which hold the “real power”.

She added: “Further, how many of those women in board positions are hands-on working mothers who play a significant role both in their business and have quality time with their children and work flexibly to balance both their working and family lives?”

Almost eight in 10 (79 per cent) of FTSE 100 companies did not have women in executive board positions, according to Hampton-Alexander’s 2017 figures.

Yesterday’s release also revealed that 10 FTSE 350 companies – including retailer Sports Direct, infrastructure company Stobart Group and travel business On the Beach Group – had all-male boards, up from eight companies when the full report was released last November.

Rachel Reeves, Labour MP for Leeds West and chair of the business, energy and industrial strategy committee, said these “inglorious” 10 companies needed to “drag themselves out of the dark ages” to make sure they have a “diverse and valuable perspective on their businesses” rather than “running a closed club of the old boys’ network”.

The full annual Hampton-Alexander report is scheduled to be published on 13 November. Hampton-Alexander’s online portal is open for FTSE 350 companies to submit their 2018 data on women in leadership until the end of July.

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