The UK needs ambitious gender diversity targets for boards


It’s easy to see what the teams working with the Hampton-Alexander Review into the number of women on FTSE boards were hoping when they launched on the same day as the result of the US presidential election. 

Most people couldn’t fathom the possibility that Hillary Clinton may not win.

What a headline that would have made: the first female President of the United States and, in parallel, the UK announcing this incredibly progressive rally for business action.

It didn’t quite work out that way. Clinton did not win. The good news about closing the gender gap was easily buried. 

So, if you haven’t heard of the government-backed Hampton-Alexander Review, that’s not too surprising. But it is worth talking about.

Calling for a voluntary target of a 33% representation of women in the FTSE 100 executive pipeline, the review makes clear that it expects the representation and development of senior female talent to improve exponentially in the coming years. 

Whilst the percentage of women on FTSE 100 boards has increased to 26% from 12.5% in 2010, there remains more to be done. And what the review notes is that this starts by supporting women, not just into the boardroom, but through the talent pipeline and into senior roles on executive teams as well.

This result can be achieved through the development of mentorship, providing promising talent with relevant experience for progression, and using quotas to ensure that complete gender parity is no longer an ambitious goal, but the expected norm.

A first leap in the right direction can be made by giving new talent first-hand board experience and understanding. Future Boards Scheme launched through the 30% Club recently, focussed on giving senior women an opportunity to get board experience to progress their careers. This presents a practical step to support the Hampton-Alexander Review that I know will be invaluable.

Years ago I was nominated to the FTSE 100 Cross-Company Mentoring Programme, which brings together chairmen and senior female executives who work just below board level. This provided the opportunity of working on real business problems with the leaders of Europe’s largest companies, gaining valuable board experience.

Likewise, with the Future Boards Scheme, women will gain development opportunities they need to break a cycle of being unable to get board appointments until board experience has been gained. Here, mentorship offers a key means of enabling talented women to reach boards.

Quotas tend to be incredibly unfashionable and younger women often hate the fact that there is even a suggestion that they need a helping hand to get to the top. Talented women want to know their job was sealed through merit, rather than fulfilling a statistical target. However, we require diversity to build diversity.

At Starling, we have a split of almost 50:50 between women and men, considerably higher than the industry average. This fuels our vibrant and energetic workforce, capable of responding rapidly to changing customer and market demands.

We’ve not enforced a quota to fulfil this greater female representation, the diversity is a testament to the talent in the industry and we’re very lucky to have so many industry leaders in our team.

Gender diversity increases performance

What’s key to note is that gender diversity on corporate boards has a great impact on business.

Homogeneity encourages group-think, which stifles the competitive nature of thought leaders and potential pioneers. This is why companies large and small are creating environments which work in the interest of everyone – of all ages, genders, ethnic and social backgrounds.

However, only after a real attitude change will the market truly benefit from the innovative nature of a diverse workforce and inclusive, educated decision making.

Having started as a graduate with Lloyds Bank in the early eighties, I know what it’s like to navigate a field that is largely made up of men. And, during my thirty-year career, I’ve seen the management board from many perspectives as well as witnessed the many different challenges talented women face in scaling their career ladders.

Moreover, there are a few things I’ve learnt along the way. Things that the Hampton Alexander review also pulls out, not least that for our female talent to shine women must be allowed to make their way up the pipeline by removing barriers which suppress their success.

Initiatives, including the Review, are ensuring that progress is made.

However, there’s no room for complacency. We must be more ambitious. In the mean time, great steps are being taken to challenge and disrupt the established system to ensure a talent pool of women develop onwards and upwards.

We can’t afford to see progress slow until British business becomes synonymous with fair representation and gender parity.

Source – Written by Anne Boden featured in Business Zone –


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