The importance of gender equity on FTSE boards

The Hampton-Alexander Review speaks to the Cass Global Women’s Leadership Programme

Cass Business School was delighted to welcome Sir Philip Hampton, Chair, Hampton-Alexander Review and Denise Wilson OBE, Chief Executive, Hampton-Alexander Review to Bunhill Row on Wednesday 28th February for a discussion on the importance of gender equity on boards.  Sir Philip and Ms Wilson were interviewed by Dr Canan Kocabasoglu-Hillmer, Director of the Cass Global Women’s Leadership Programme.

The Hampton-Alexander Review is an independent review body which builds on the work of the Davies Review to increase the number of women on FTSE 350 boards. The Review adopts a voluntary business-led approach, with a dual focus of improving women’s representation at board level and also in leadership roles two layers below the board and covers 23,000 leadership roles across all sectors of British business.

gender equity

L-R: Dr Canan Kocabasoglu-Hillmer, Sir Philip Hampton and Ms Denise Wilson OBE

Sir Philip began by speaking about the importance of having gender parity on executive boards.

“We need to have talent equally distributed – it’s good for business to have the best people and that should include women.  We have learned the lesson from the financial crisis when boards were stuffed with men.  Diversity is important for rich debate and boards need people who will ask difficult questions.”

Ms Wilson spoke about her personal experience of sitting on boards such as the Royal Academy, following an executive career in the oil and gas industry.

“I had to look at how I added value to the board and the particular ly skills and behaviours that I brought – it was a very powerful lesson.   You need to build your confidence to demonstrate you have these hugely transferable skills.  It is important for women to have a strong executive career first and then a board career after this can be hugely rewarding.”

She said most business leaders are working hard to improve gender balance on their boards and the voluntary influencing style adopted in the UK has worked well, as has the commitment to publish regular data.  Ms Wilson also praised the media for their commitment to covering the issue and investors, who have also applied pressure to companies.

“In 2010, there were 152 FTSE boards – all of them male.  Now we have no all-male boards – and we have boards with five or six women on instead.  We are now measuring ‘One & Done’ boards, which have a tokenistic approach.  But there are only 38 of them so that demonstrates progress too.”

Sir Philip said leaders had a responsibility to encourage gender parity on their boards.

“If you have senior figures in the board room saying this is an important issue, it certainly gets addressed.  It’s only when you shine a light that people start to behave differently. Networking and mentoring are also important steps to take to prepare women for board roles.  There has never been a better time for women aspiring to be on a board – recruitment is high, with almost one in two roles available. It used to be one in eight.”

Dr Kocabasoglu-Hillmer asked Sir Philip and Ms Wilson what advice they would give to Cass women who would like to start investing in their career and developing their board potential.

Ms Wilson advised women to establish a corporate career first and invest in their education and development before considering board roles.  She also suggested women could consider transitionary roles – such as school governorship – first to see how boards operate and develop their board skills.

“It’s important to be financially literate and learn soft skills such as influencing earlier in your career.  I advise all women in senior management to be clear about what you want to do, then have that conversation with the people who matter.”

Echoing this, Sir Philip suggested women should first identify their ambition and then work out how they need to get there.

“I’ve mentored both women and men and I always recommend one universal thing – aspire, identify your ambition and then give it a go.  You need to have a plan and a strategy to get there – most men have this and women should do too.  Recruiters will be likely to appoint someone who wants the job – you need to show that you do.”

Speaking at the event, Dr Kocabasoglu-Hillmer said now, more than ever, it is important for Cass women – students, staff and alumni – to ensure they are taking the right steps to develop their careers and consider board roles.

“The Hampton-Alexander Review has undertaken a very important task and I salute their work to increase the number of women on FTSE 350 boards.  We are grateful to them for sharing the expertise and insights with our students tonight.  As Cass, we also take our role in addressing these challenges seriously and provide thought leadership based on the latest research on why these measures matter and how companies can make long-lasting changes.”

Watch a highlights video from the event here.

Find out more about the Hampton-Alexander Review here.

Find out more about the Cass Global Women’s Leadership Programme here.

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