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Employment Solicitor discusses the workplace reality - just 17% women on boards

Last week, Government published their annual review of the 2010 report into what prevents women rising to the level of corporate decision making within top companies in the UK. The statistics behind the review saw just 6.2% women on Boards at the turn of the century, 12.5% in 2010 and 17.3% today.

94 of the top 100 FTSE companies count women among their boards, as do over 2/3rds of all FTSE 350 Companies. However, Vince Cable (BIS) stated that “momentum appears to be slowing and there has been much less progress in executive appointments at the top”.

Is this indicative of women being invited to take up Non Executive Directorships (“NEDs”), creating a culture of “golden skirts,” (a rather unfortunate turn of phrase coined by some in the response to the Norwegian quota system), where, increased numbers of women in boardrooms is not representative of women in senior managerial positions.  

Why does this glass ceiling prevail in a country where treating a person less favourably based on gender is illegal?

Would promoting more women into senior managerial and executive positions mean more women are hired at a senior level and enable progression up the ladder?  

Do we need to inject some equality into our equality goals? The current government agenda is to see women make up 25% of boards by 2015. But, women make up a fairly equal proportion of the workforce (although not across all sectors, they comprise nearly 50% of the financial services sector). Why then have we set the goalposts a quarter of the way up the hill? In 2003, Norway, at the forefront of gender equality, introduced legislation mandating 40% female representation on boards in their top companies. Research captures the positive contribution to corporate social responsibility and other benefits that this more equal balance derives.

Pay is undoubtedly a factor. Why should women take on this level of corporate and social responsibility (amongst everything else), whilst not being paid equally for it? The overall gender pay gap was, at last count in 2012, 19.7% according to the Office of National Statistics. Economists project that this gap shall not be closed until 2040 (after my retirement). Is gender equality really the ambition of the next generation when the Equal Pay Act came into force in 1975?

In respect of pay, there is a link back to the point above, where women on boards are often NEDs (as opposed to, for example, CEOs) and the pay of NEDs is significantly out of step with senior executives rates. According to the recent Life in the Boardroom report from Directorbank, CEOs are paid nearly twenty times that of NEDs, when you look at annual salary paid at a daily rate. As at January 2013, women hold just 4.2% of CEO roles in Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 companies. These statistics are possibly more reflective of the gender composition of senior leadership in our top companies than as set out in the BIS report.  

Certainly, based on these statistics, it is apparent that women continue to face Discrimination in the workplace as regards recruitment, pay and promotion. Something more than an annual review of a report is essential if we are going to see real equality in this lifetime.

Click here for more information on Sex Discrimination, Equality Act 2010 and Equal Pay.