February 23, 2017

How can HR teams boost the female talent pipeline?

The good news is that the number of women on FTSE 100 boards is rising. The bad news? It is not rising fast enough. There still aren’t enough, not in FTSE 100 boards, not in FTSE 350 boards and there are not women coming up through the talent pipeline to take up board and other highly senior positions. Not only that – the pace of change has stagnated since October 2015.

The Female FTSE Board 2016’ report shows that progress is being made. There are no longer any all-male boards in the FTSE 100 and the number of women on FTSE 350 boards has more than doubled since 2011. Last year’s report celebrated the fact that Lord Davies’s target of 25% women on FTSE 100 boards had been met – surpassed even, having just tipped over the target to 26%. The target now is to have 33% women on FTSE 350 boards by 2020.

However, there is still a long way to go, according to Ann Francke, chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute (CMI). “Contrary to popular belief, this problem is not going away, and recent appointments have failed to hit the numbers we need to achieve the 2020 target. Top of Sir Philip and Dame Helen’s to-do list should be addressing the fact that we still have 15 all-male FTSE 350 boards, and that less than 10% of executive directors are women – a startling reflection on the lack of diversity in business leadership.”

Francke refers to Sir Philip Hampton, chair of GlaxoSmithKline, and Dame Helen Alexander, chair of UBM, who are undertaking a new review on improving female representation in top leadership positions in UK companies.

What can and will Sir Philip and Dame Helen do? They are in discussions with executive search firms, business leaders, academics and other relevant people and organisations, working out how to boost the female talent pipeline within the FTSE 350.

In order for the 33% by 2020 target to be met, one in three new board appointments need to be female and that is assuming that that there is constant turnover.

The review is also looking at what hinders women from getting to those top positions and will present its findings and recommendations to the government by the end of this year.

HR needs to be thinking about what it can do to boost the female talent pipeline and ensure women are able to progress their careers right to the very top. There are some key things that HR can and should be doing.

Firstly, it needs to ensure there is transparency and in particular, transparency over issues such as pay. Why? By being aware of gender pay differences and reporting on those differences, people are made aware of the scale of the problem. According to CMI’s research, the gender pay gap is 6% for junior managers and 22% for middle managers. What about senior managers? The gap is 35% and Francke says it is getting worse.

HR needs to set targets, both in terms of getting women into senior positions and in terms of paying them equivalent salaries to men.

Organisational cultures and practices need to facilitate and promote equal opportunities. Men need to be behind any initiatives, as well as women. It needs to be a joint approach. What practices make it easier for women to achieve their potential? Flexible working options, mentoring, networking opportunities, mixed shortlists and recruiting panels, really good performance reviews and stretch assignments are all really good ways of boosting the representation of senior women in the workplace.

What Sir Philip and Dame Helen do not want to see when next year’s report comes out is that the figures have continued to stagnate. 2020 is not that far off if that 33% target is to be met.