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Gender gap
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FTSE boards lack ‘diversity of expertise’, study finds 

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The number of women on FTSE All-Share boards has continued to rise this year (40 per cent), but a new report released today highlights deep concerns about the lack of skills and diversity of expertise among FTSE All-Share executive board members. New data reveals that just 2.3 per cent of executive board members hold positions other than CEO, CFO or Company Secretary and only 10 per cent of executive board directors are women. 

This data has been published in a new report by Women on Boards UK in partnership with global consulting firm, Protiviti. The Hidden Talent: Diversity & Inclusion in the FTSE All-Share report monitors the gender representation on FTSE All-Share and AIM listed boards. In its analysis of over 1,000 listed companies, the report also looks at the mix of skills and expertise of executives called on to join the board, shining light on an often forgotten area of boardroom diversity – diversity of expertise.  

Only eighty-one (2.3 per cent) executive members across almost 4,800 executive board seats hold positions outside of CEO, CFO or Company Secretary. Furthermore, within this small group of individuals, the report found a further concentration of expertise. The majority of these executives held positions focused on operational efficiency, with 68 per cent either being Chief Operating Officer or Chief Technology Officer. The remainder of roles (less than 30 across almost 600 firms) include Employee Representative; General Counsel (senior legal adviser); Chief Information Officer; Chief Strategy Officer; Chief People Officer.  

Fiona Hathorn, CEO and co-founder of Women on Boards says, “The responsibilities of the board have continued to evolve over the past decade and yet the focus remains on traditional skill sets such as finance, operations and CEO experience. Skills such as social responsibility, human resources or marketing, show negligible presence in the boardroom. Traditional skills and leadership experience are of course desirable but companies must take a more holistic view and ensure an optimal mix of expertise to navigate the changing business landscape. It’s time to redefine “board-ready talent” and by doing so we believe we will also see improvements on diversity targets for gender and ethnicity representation in the boardroom.” 

The report states that while most organisations argue that their workforce is their most valuable asset, very few boards have an experienced and strong ‘talent and leadership’ executive voice in the boardroom. According to the Hidden Talent report there are just two executive board members across the FTSE All-Share who have a human resources or people and culture job title. This skillset may be filled by non-executive directors yet, when surveyed, a majority of board members (82 per cent) stated that people and culture was a ‘top level’ area for their boards and a ‘significant’ issue.  

They also agreed (82 per cent) that ‘employees expect leadership from boards on people and culture’. Despite this, only 27 per cent of board members surveyed said they draw on specialist HR expertise and 40 per cent state that the quality of people and culture discussions were ‘weaker’ or ‘much weaker’ than other topics.  

Janet Barberis, Managing Director at Protiviti says, “Boards today now know how important it is to consider their people and to consciously create a culture that engages them. Driving cultural change within an organisation is complex and requires significant professional skills and experience to achieve. To do so, companies need to look beyond the typical pool of CEOs or CFOs, opening their boardrooms to people with different areas of expertise, including human resources and people and culture.” 

Gender diversity programmes helped along by three consecutive government-backed schemes have pushed the proportion of women holding boardroom roles across FTSE 350 companies from 9.5 per cent in 2011 to 40.2 per cent in 2023. Women on Boards has been measuring gender diversity in the FTSE All-Share firms below the top 350 listed companies and has seen numbers improve from 48 per cent of firms not achieving a target of 33 per cent women on boards in 2021 to 16 per cent in 2023.  

However, the FTSE Women Leaders Review has set a goal for 40 per cent female representation, supporting Women on Boards long-held campaign aim of 40:40:20 being truly representative. In addition they, and the Financial Conduct Authority, have outlined that one of the four most influential roles should be held by a woman – these roles are CEO, CFO, SID or Chair. 19 per cent FTSE 100 do not meet these targets, rising to 36 per cent FTSE 250, 41 per cent FTSE All-Share ex350 and 73 per cent among Alternative Investment Market (AIM) listed companies are yet to reach this goal. 

Fiona Hathorn adds, “Since we started these reports three years ago, we’re pleased with the progress made on women non-executive directors outside of the FTSE 350 but just having women in NED roles is not sufficient to have an impact on the executive pipeline.  This report is an opportunity for our largest listed companies, FTSE All-Share and AIM to take action and make meaningful changes that will help to transform their business for the better.” 

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