US Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died earlier this month, was a truly remarkable figure and a passionate advocate for gender equality and women’s rights.
One of her many memorable quotes was that: ‘Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.’
Corporate boardrooms are among the most important places for decision making, but women have been very much an exception in them.
This is underlined by frequent reports such as there being more FTSE 100 CEOs called Peter than there are women FTSE 100 CEOs, or more FTSE 100 chairmen called John than women of any name.
Change has been slow, but campaigns such as the 30% Club to increase gender diversity at board and senior management level have helped focus corporate and investor attention on the issue and milestones are being passed.
Last week the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy unveiled research showing women made up a third of all board members across the FTSE 350 for the first time.
The announcement was lost in a news cycle dominated by renewed pandemic related restrictions but the data meant the headline target set by the Hampton Alexander Review – set up in 2016 to drive the representation of women at the top of FTSE 350 companies by the end of 2020 – had been met.
A cause for celebration? Well, only a muted one. Drill down beyond the headline and the figures show 41% of FTSE 350 companies have not reached 33% female representation. The data also revealed 18 boards within the FTSE 250 remain ‘one and done’ boards with only asingle woman board member.
Business Secretary Alok Sharma called for all FTSE 350 companies to reach the 33% target by the end of December, pointing out that gender diverse leadership teams are more innovative and make better decisions.
“As the UK economy continues to recover from coronavirus, increasing representation of women on boards represents a golden opportunity not only to rebuild, but build back better,” he said.
Particularly at a time when companies need all the help they can get to face the challenges to trading caused by the pandemic they must draw on the skills and abilities of everyone and ignoring the contribution of women is not only short-sighted, but costly.
Recent research from broker Liberum based on an analysis of members of the FTSE All Share index over the last decade, showed that in the UK, just like in other countries, companies with a more gender diverse board of directors had higher operating margins, lower share price volatility and higher share price returns - in the UK, the outperformance was 3.4% per year.
As Ginsburg said: “As women achieve power, the barriers will fall. As society sees what women can do, as women see what women can do, there will be more women out there doing things, and we’ll all be better off for it.”