Scores of Britain’s biggest public companies will be challenged next week to bolster the number of women on their boards amid concerns that many have adopted a ‘one and done’ approach to gender diversity.
Sky News has learnt that a review of British boardrooms to be published next Tuesday will highlight roughly 75 companies in the FTSE-350 which have only one female board member.
The review, chaired by Sir Philip Hampton, the GlaxoSmithKline chairman, is expected to say that companies which have a single woman director risk being accused of tokenism during a growing clamour for diversity.
Sources said that it would also seek to turn the spotlight on the dearth of female chairs, senior independent directors and chairs of boardroom committees in the UK’s leading companies.
Just 22 women, including Susan Kilsby at Shire and Deanna Oppenheimer at Hargreaves Lansdown, chair major public companies, with 328 chaired by men.
In the FTSE-100, that figure falls to only seven women chairs.
“There are still far too few women in the key boardroom decision-making roles,” an insider said on Friday.
The report will be the latest update from the Hampton-Alexander Review, named after Sir Philip and Dame Helen Alexander, a former boardroom heavyweight who died last year.
One source familiar with the findings said that pointing out the “one and done” issue was crucial in deepening the drive to improve diversity.
A number of inquiries aimed at increasing female representation in the upper echelons of corporate Britain have been launched in recent years, including a new code overseen by the Treasury which was spearheaded by Jayne-Anne Gadhia, the former Virgin Money chief executive.
The Hampton-Alexander Review’s latest update will say that good progress has been made against the target of seeing all FTSE-350 companies having women comprising at least a third of their board members and leadership by 2020.
However, it will warn against complacency and say that much more needs to be done to strengthen the pipeline of women below board level who are progressing through major companies’ executive ranks.
The proportion of women on FTSE-350 executive committees and their direct reports hit 25.2% last year and has risen only modestly 12 months on, according to one insider.
Earlier this year, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy tried to use shock tactics to spur bosses into action by publishing a list of the excuses used by companies for not promoting more women to their top ranks.
Among the reasons cited by FTSE-350 chairs and chief executives, according to a Government press release in May, were: “I don’t think women fit comfortably into the board environment”; “Most women don’t want the hassle or pressure of sitting on a board”; and “All the ‘good’ women have already been snapped up”.
Those responses drew a scathing response from a range of stakeholders, including Sacha Sadan, director of corporate governance at Legal & General Investment Management.
“Boards made up of just men, from the same socioeconomic backgrounds, cannot be the optimal forum for challenging debates,” said Mr Sadan in May.
“Although we have seen good progress at non-executive level there is still much more to do on the senior leadership pipeline. Therefore we continue to encourage companies to tap into the whole talent pool.”