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Julia Irvine 31 May 2018 11:59am

Worst excuses for excluding women from the boardroom

Women may finally be getting a firm foothold in the UK’s top companies but there are still far too many male boardroom bastions left, relying on shockingly poor excuses to keep the status quo

The government has released the top 10 worst explanations given to the Hampton-Alexander Review team by FTSE 350 chairs and chief executives for not appointing women to FTSE company boards.

Since the review was only launched in November 2016, the attitudes in the list – described by Business in the Community CEO Amanda Mackenzie as reading “like a script from a comedy parody” – are clearly still prevalent among Britain’s boardrooms.

Excuses include: “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 “There aren’t that many women with the right credentials and depth of experience to sit on the board – the issues covered are extremely complex”.

There is worse to come: take “Shareholders just aren’t interested in the make-up of the board, so why should we be?” or “My other board colleagues wouldn’t want to appoint a woman on our board” or even “We have one woman already on the board, so we are done – it is someone else’s turn”. Or the astonishing “I can’t just appoint a woman because I want to”.

The last of the 10 are: “All the ‘good’ women have already been snapped up”, “We need to build the pipeline from the bottom – there just aren’t enough senior women in this sector” and “There aren’t any vacancies at the moment – if there were, I would think about appointing a woman”.

Business minister Andrew Griffiths says he is shocked by “these pitiful and patronising excuses” that some companies find acceptable as reasons for keeping women out of the boardroom and senior executive roles. He warns that the government is determined to give everyone an equal opportunity to reach the top.

Sir Philip Hampton, who chairs the Hampton-Alexander Review, thinks that the situation is gradually improving. “Around a third of FTSE 350 companies still have very few women either on their boards or in senior leadership roles,” he says. “We used to hear these excuses regularly a few years ago, thankfully much less so now.

“However, leaders expressing warm words of support but actually doing very little to appoint women into top jobs – or quietly blocking progress – are really not much better.”

According to the latest statistics, the number of women on FTSE 350 boards has more than doubled since 2011, and they occupy almost 28% of board positions in FTSE 100 companies, up from 12.5%. Meanwhile, the number of all-male FTSE 350 company boards has fallen to 10 from 152.

The review team are predicting that the number of women being appointed into senior roles will accelerate on the back of the new rules requiring companies to report their gender pay gap. These came into operation on 4 April this year.

Many organisations were forced to admit that the size of their pay gap resulted from insufficient numbers of women in senior roles.

Recent research by McKinsey suggests that bridging the gender pay gap could contribute an extra £150bn to the UK economy by 2025 and increase the number of women employees by 840,000.

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