Britain’s biggest companies are once again making gender diversity a key business priority, according to a global talent mapping and pipelining company. Armstrong Craven says research by Cranfield University revealing that less than 6 per cent of executive directors are women highlights just how much work remains to be done.
The need for action was further fuelled by the resignation of Saatchi & Saatchi chairman Kevin Roberts. Roberts had claimed that the gender diversity debate is “all over” and that women favour “circular ambition” over “vertical ambition”. Research by Cranfield University, City University London and Queen Mary University of London found that just 5.6 per cent of executive directorships in the FTSE250 are filled by women. Rachel Davis, Deputy CEO of Armstrong Craven, said: “We have seen a sudden spike in the number of enquiries we are seeing from leading companies aware that they still have a lot of work to do to improve the representation of women at senior levels within their organisations.
“There is no question the issue of gender diversity fell off the agenda when figures showed in 2015 that over 25 per cent of women on FTSE100 boards were women – up from 12.5 per cent in 2011. “But the figures did not paint a true picture as the vast majority of the female roles were non-executive and often the same group of successful women were holding positions on a number of different boards. It is also the case that a large proportion of the female executive board roles are either HR director or Company Secretary rather than the full breadth of executive positions.
“The new figures for executive female boardroom roles are shockingly low. There are a great many talented women in leading organisations who are still just not being identified and given a route map to reach the boardroom table.” Rachel added: “Until recently it appeared gender diversity had become a ‘nice to have’ policy that could take a back seat when other issues were more pressing, whereas now it appears to be firmly back on the agenda. To achieve true gender diversity is not a quick fix. It requires companies to invest in a strategic approach which combines identifying and developing internal talent while also mapping and pipelining talent externally, typically those already at board minus 1 and board minus 2 who would be ready to step into a board role over a defined period of time.”
Earlier this year, Sir Philip Hampton, Chair of GSK, was appointed chair of an independent group charged with improving gender diversity on boards. He commented: “This means looking at the talent pipeline for female executives and emerging non-executive directors to ensure we create opportunities and the right conditions for women to succeed.” Sir Philip’s work follows on from the Women on Boards Report by Lord Davies which set the target of 25 per cent of boards to be made up of women.