Call for boycott of FTSE 350 firms without a woman on the board

Hampton-Alexander review also shows ‘tokenistic gesture’ of appointing one woman

Five British companies have failed to appoint a single woman to their boards more than two years after the government ordered the UK’s 350 biggest firms to ensure that women hold at least a third of boardroom positions by 2020.

A further 75 companies were on Tuesday highlighted by the Hampton-Alexander review of UK boardroom diversity for appointing only one woman to their boards in a “tokenistic gesture”.

Sir Philip Hampton, chair of the government-commissioned review, called on consumers to boycott the firms that are “so clearly out of touch”. Hampton, a City grandee and chairman of the pharmaceuticals company GlaxoSmithKline, told the Guardian that politicians, the media and consumers need to put “human pressure” on firms that are damaging the reputation of corporate Britain.

The five FTSE 350-listed companies with all-male boards are Millennium & Copthorne, which operates 120 hotels across the world; Daejan Holdings, which owns a string of office properties including Africa House in London’s Holborn; Amigo Holdings, which provides 49% APR loans; and the investment trusts Herald Investment and JP Morgan Japanese Investment. Amigo appointed a woman to its board last Thursday but is not included in the Hampton-Alexander figures because the decision missed the deadline.

“They are so clearly out of touch,” Hampton said of the five companies. “And it would be good to see pressure from the media, politicians, ourselves [other business leaders] and consumers.”

Hampton said that while it would be hard for consumers to apply pressure on investment trusts, they could avoid staying at Millennium & Copthorne hotels. The FTSE 250 company, which is majority-owned by the Singaporean billionaire Kwek Leng Beng, owns hotels and resorts in 79 countries and is the official partner hotel of Chelsea Football Club. A spokesperson for Millennium declined to comment.

The reasons chairmen and chief executives have cited for failing to appoint more women included: “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”.

Hampton said that while it was a deep concern that five FTSE 350 companies still had all-male boards, it was a considerable improvement on 152 all-male boards in 2011. Also, FTSE 100 companies are on track to meet the target of having 30% of board positions occupied by women by 2020. In 2011, only 12.5% of FTSE 100 boardroom positions were held by women.

Denise Wilson, the chief executive of the Hampton-Alexander review, said that as well as the firms that still had all-male boards she wanted to highlight 75 companies that have only one woman on their boards. “Some of them have been in that tokenistic place for some time and we are shining a light on them,” Wilson said. Included among the 75 with only one woman on the board is Melrose, the FTSE 100 turnaround specialist that took over the historic engineering company GKN.

Hampton also highlighted the London Stock Exchange Group, which operates the UK and Italian stock exchanges, for having only two women on its board. “You would expect a business like that to be setting a better example,” he said.

Even at companies where there were several women on the board, Hampton said women were more often in non-executive rather than executive roles and were very rarely the chief executive or chair.

There are only six female CEOs in the FTSE 100, an increase of one since 2011. Among the wider FTSE 350 there are only 12 female CEOs, which is a decrease from 15 last year and 18 the year before. There are only 22 female chairs in the FTSE 350.

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Rachel Reeves, the chair of the business, energy and industrial strategy committee, said: “The infamous five companies who still have all-male boards need to drag themselves into the 21st century and recruit a more valuable and diverse viewpoint than the current old-boys club set-up. When nearly one in four firms only have one woman on their board, it’s clear that many of our biggest companies still have a long way to go. Business culture needs to change rapidly, to challenge existing stereotypes and to realise the positive impact on performance of greater diversity.”

Four FTSE 100 companies – the retailer Next, the online estate agent Rightmove, the financial services provider Hargreaves Lansdown and the builder Taylor Wimpey – have 50% or more women on their boards.

Greg Clark, the business secretary, said: “Many businesses have championed gender diversity, building on our modern industrial strategy’s ambition to ensure everyone can progress in the workplace. If companies are not diverse they are missing out on the benefits that a diverse workforce brings. Sadly, other companies are lagging behind and I want to see all of those companies do more to increase the number of women at the top.”


Rupert Neate

The GuardianTramp

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