Boardroom boost for females | Women take more FTSE 350 seats but the gender gap continues

Women take more FTSE 350 seats but the gender gap continues

The number of jobs held by women in the FTSE 350 increased by two percentage points last year to 42.1 per cent, according to the Government-backed FTSE Women Leaders Review yet many female professionals say it’s not enough.

The FTSE 350 includes some of the UK’s biggest companies and it’s good news for women in business to learn that rates of female senior leadership on the board are rising. The figure represents a hike of a significant 24.5% recorded when the report was launched in 2017. Yet, when it comes to the very top positions only ten women currently serve as CEOs of FTSE 100 companies.

Representation leans into men

The independent business-led initiative, the FTSE Women Leaders Review, is focused upon increasing women’s representation on the boards and leadership teams of the FTSE 350 and the UK’s 50 biggest private companies. It shows that over half of these companies are on their way to reaching the goal of 40% women in leadership. Yet, the appointment rate still leans in favour of men with more than six out of every ten vacancies in the year being awarded to a man. To reach the targets, this means that over the next two years, almost every other appointment will need to go to a woman.

Lily Searle, a lawyer at Fieldfisher says: “As usual the devil is in the detail - numbers of female CEOs are still relatively poor and the majority of those 42% will be NED’s who still provide a valuable contribution to boards but won’t be the executive decision makers.”

Searle further alludes to the data excluding not such a bright picture the further down the indexes you go. “The situation on AIM is certainly much worse since this avoids much of the scrutiny as the main market (in particular the FTSE indexes) and is not routinely reported on – so it's actually the case that the appointment rate of women is down overall."

Women’s parental load slows progress

For many women, the parental load continues to fall with them and taking time out of a career to start and bring up a family has slowed progress towards more senior positions. This is together with rising childcare costs and for many the pressure of the constant juggle meaning that many families take the decision for one parent’s career to be sidelined.

Jemima Olchawski, Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society, a charity that campaigns for gender equality and women’s rights at work, says that until childcare is made more accessible, female representation will continue to fail to keep pace with men’s. “While the progress we’ve seen is welcome, it’s not enough. We need all jobs at all levels to be advertised as flexible, our childcare system must be reformed, and employers must also pay attention to their ethnicity data. This report is a stark reminder of how important it is that employers don’t take their eye off of the equality ball - improvements in diversity don’t happen by accident.”

Michelle Parry-Slater, author of The Learning and Development Handbook says that the good news is the world of work is changing, pointing to the recent victory on Flex From First legislation which comes into effect this year enabling workers the right to request flexible working from day one of a new job. She says, this together with ‘enlightened generations’ helps working parents to realise the value of co-parenting to enable both women and men to reach their full potential during their careers is a huge step.

Yet, she also warns that there is still a long way to go and a cultural shift in attitude needs to be catapulted for women to get to the top. “We do need to get rid of dinosaurs who can only equate good work to presenteeism. Money talks and expensive office spaces in large cities are costly, therefore pushing to fill them helps perpetuate a system which excludes women, and other minorities, who have much to offer in terms of skills and creative ideas, yet simply need to do that more locally.” She explains that the agenda needs to be curated towards meaningful work not equalling sitting in an office chair. “Perhaps then the system will turn, and more women will have a chance of sharing their brilliance like those pioneers already there,” she adds.

Female champions pave the way

Women on boards continue to serve as important role-models for future and current generations of females. Liv Garfield, is the longest-standing female chief executive of water firm Severn Trent for almost a decade, while BT’s chief executive Allison Kirkby took over as BT’s chief executive last month.

The nine listed firms without any women on their committee include Aston Martin Lagonda, Savills, Hochschild Mining, Foresight Group, Primary Health Properties, BBGI Global Infrastructure, Bellway, International Distributions Services and Fresnillo.

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Female leadership is an important part of building diverse businesses with representation from all genders and ethnicity. Embedding next-level supports to nurture the female talent pipeline is an essential element of people management strategy. Flexible working, compressed hours, and the ability to work within a core hours framework, with flexible start and finish times to suit family life are all helping women fulfill their carer ambitions. Champions such as Garfield and Kirkby are important in trailblazing that it can be achieved. The UK is a nation that doesn’t employ quotas and the report shows that it is in second place in the FTSE 350 when compared internationally to 11 countries also working hard to improve the gender balance on the boards of public listed companies.

There is still a long way to go before gender parity is achieved on the UK’s boards. Companies that are forward thinking and that can truly support women through both adequate childcare support, development strategies and enabling talent to manage both the parental load and the juggle, if it falls upon them, can push the numbers of women in senior positions upwards.

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