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The Direction of Women on FTSE Boards – A step in the right direction, Part I

Speaking at a FTSE 100 NEDonBoard panel event, Denise Wilson, OBE, Chief Exec of The Davies Review, highlighted the progress made, and future development of, women on boards of FTSE companies.  The interview is insightful for both women board members, as well as boards considering the importance of diversity of thought in the boardroom.

How has the Davies review contributed to the rise of women on FTSE 100 and 350 boards?

A:  The Davies review started in 2011, we set out 10 recommendations for chairman of FTSE boards and FTSE 350 boards, as to what action they should take to improve the representation of women on their boards – from 11%, which it was at the time, to 25% in 5 years’ time. We’ve had phenomenal success in appointing over 550 women to FTSE 350 boards in that time.

When we started the review, there were 152 all-male boards in the FTSE 350 index. [As of interview date] we’re now down to only 16 all-male boards, and that number is dwindling. And we have seen a change take place at the heart of British boardrooms – a cultural change take place that has been very beneficial for everybody who sits around the table, but particularly women. The next stage of the review will be to move from 25% up to 33%… That will be our next five years’ work.

Also, we need to work very critically with the executive pipeline, which is the layer just underneath the board, working with the executive committee and the direct reports too – so a leadership group of around 100 people in the FTSE biggest companies, and ensuring that they have a proper gender balance in that layer, and that some of those really senior top jobs in the executive layer are now going to women.

How do you see boards and the board landscape progressing in the imminent future?

A: The modern FTSE board today needs to be looking at all kinds of different skills. They need to be looking to bring on their board a range of different profiles – different people from different backgrounds; people who come up maybe in the corporate sector; those that have come from government or maybe academic sector… The people who are bringing really different perspectives on problems, and are able to work together as a team – a mixed team with good gender balance, with good broad diversity, and people with different skills who are able to really challenge and offer a different viewpoint on any particular perspective

Lord Davies has concluded it’s first 5 years of outstanding work on gender equality by proposing a series of recommendations including a bold new target of all FTSE 350 boards having 33% female representation by 2020 – around 350 more women in top positions. It is evident that having a greater presence of women on boards translates to significant benefits, both quantifiable and unquantifiable. While this is the case, the appointment should be based on the merits and professional competencies and abilities in order for the benefits to be realised. 

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