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A third of FTSE 350 board positions are now filled by women - is that enough?

As the Hampton-Alexander Review target is met, Ann Cairns explains where the business world must focus its attentions now

More than one third of FTSE 350 board positions are now filled by women
More than one third of FTSE 350 board positions are now filled by women Credit: Moment RF 

How would you feel if you were male and somebody told you in 257 years you’d be on a level playing field with women? You’d probably laugh. But that’s the number of years estimated for women to reach economic equality by the World Economic Forum in Davos this year - and that was pre-Covid. Things have certainly not improved since then.

But let’s look at the positives; it has just been announced that more than one third of FTSE 350 board positions are now filled by women. This is three times the number we had 10 years ago. A huge improvement without mandates - a result of getting buy in from the chairs and CEOs of companies to change their governance mix.

So does that mean our work at the 30% Club is done? It was set up in 2010 with the aim of achieving a minimum of 30% female representation on FTSE 100 boards (reached in 2018 and now also at 33 per cent) and later incorporated goals for the FTSE 250 and FTSE 350 - the latter of which became the focus of the Government backed Hampton-Alexander Review. Its 33 per cent overall target has now been met. 

I hope that the 41 per cent of individual FTSE 350 companies that have not yet reached a third of women on their boards will catch up soon - something the business secretary Alok Sharma has urged them to do by December this year. 

So what next?

The number of women on boards varies greatly around the world - 10 per cent in Japan, 8 per cent in Brazil, but over 30 per cent in Australia. That’s why the 30% Club, which has a presence in 15 countries, is now rolling out to all G20 nations. 

Covid has taught us that we’re all in the same lifeboat, and it’s not just a question of levelling up across your own country. It’s more important than ever that movements like ours continue to grow globally and to encourage businesses to change the mix of talent they have at the top of companies.

But we know that focusing on gender alone doesn’t create an inclusive world. That’s why we’ve updated our goals to include ethnicity. We are pushing for at least one person of colour on every FTSE 350 board, and our aim is for half of those roles to go to women of colour. 175 seats: that’s what success looks like.

When the 30% Club was formed 10 years ago, we were mostly preaching to the converted. The chairs and CEOs of the day, mainly men, wanted a different future for their daughters.

Ethnicity is harder because these men are still mostly white. So how do we create empathy? One of the key ways is through mentorship, and our highly successful mentorship scheme, run by Moving Ahead, now has 2,500 people registered in the UK. Their latest endeavour is called Mission Include, and it encompasses reverse mentorship, particularly for women of colour - that minority of minority groups in the business world. It doesn’t stop there and can include characteristics such as disability, which today affects 1 in 5 people but is something employers often find hard to talk about in the workplace.

Why should companies care about this? McKinsey data has shown that those with more diverse boards outperform their peers by 20 per cent, and when ethnicity is added that number goes up to 35. It’s not just good for society, it’s good for business.

So congratulations to those FTSE 350 companies that have women on their boards. But let’s not wait 257 years for parity. Let’s not even wait 25.