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  • Writer's pictureEilish Jamieson

Why ‘The Last Word’ from Hampton-Alexander Review?

This week the Hampton-Alexander Review released its final report leading with the opening remark, 'The Last Word'.

The review, launched in 2016, aimed to encourage UK-listed companies to promote more women on their boards and into senior leadership positions.

On the first objective the review has no doubt helped drive momentum, with the number of women on the boards of the FTSE350 rising from 682 to 1,026 during the five years of the review. Women now represent 34.3% of board roles, albeit a significantly smaller percentage in Chair or SID positions, and the vast majority being non-executive.

However, the review has fallen short of its second goal of reaching 33% representation of women in FTSE 350 leadership teams. The proportion of women in those leadership roles – who have places on an executive committee or directly report to the executive committee – reached 29.4%. And of this number again CEO or CFO positions held by women represented a very small percentage.

Speaking with women this week, I was assured to hear that I was not alone in feeling uncomfortable in the use of ‘The Last Word’ as a opening to a finale that was far from complete. There is no doubt it is a job well done by the many who put their head and hearts behind the review ambitions. But it is not a job 'done'.

In the words of Denise Wilson, chief executive of the review, there is a “full to overflowing” supply of capable and experienced women.

So why then, in the midst of a pandemic that is demonstrating that women’s careers become the fall guy when times get tough, the sluggish efforts of some to produce gender pay gap reporting, are we left with a cliffhanger but no indication of a second series?

I really encourage you to read the report, which contains a huge amount of data and insight, and is a credit to the people who have produced it. However despite each point being individually very important and supported by data, I had a sense that something was missing. Perhaps not quantifiable by data, and therefore safely stacked for reading 'between the lines' and for the reader to reach their own conclusions.

The list below, on page 13 of the report, was one in particular that drew my attention, as it raises points that don’t appear elsewhere, several of which that suggest lip service as a predominant part of the problem. How to invoke change when the systems (belief and structural) that dominate are those that still consider it a nice to have, rather than a must have?

An organisation that says it values gender equality but continues to replace 2 out of every 3 senior positions with men, despite a supply of quality female candidates, is demonstrating that it is does not in fact value it as a priority. The same can be said for internal promotions, pay, and workplace flexibility practices.

So where to next?

Leave companies to do the right thing? I think we have enough experience to know that won’t do the job.

Wait for government to announce the second series to HA? Hopeful, but not hearing much noise coming from that camp, and if the response to enforcing the gender pay gap reporting is anything to go by, there is unlikely to be a queue willing to argue the case.

What does that leave?

I certainly hope it’s not The Last Word. The spirit of Hampton-Alexander, that gender equality is not just a good thing, but the right thing, is still very much alive and driving the work of many. Myself included.

I prefer to consider this a brief pause. A place to think, to explore the data, to examine the unsaid, and to reset for the next stage. We all (employers, employees, investors, government officials and regulators) have a part to play in making sure that it is a short and meaningful pause.

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Top ten more work to do

1) Too few women CEOs, FDs, and Chairs given progress elsewhere

2) Increased women's representation in Leadership roles to 30%, but still a way to go

3) Appointment rate of women still lags men, with 60% of all roles still going to men

4) Severall All-Male Executive Committees and 'One & Done' Boards remain

5) The 'Gender Say Gap' continues, with a predominance of male voices in business

6) Gender balanced teams are increasing, but not always the norm

7) Harder work still to do addressing behaviours & creating inclusive cultures

8) Too many companies slow to take action, or not playing their part

9) Too many business leaders under-informed on the business case and value of diversity

10) Too many by-standers, too few up-standers leading the change

(Source: Hampton-Alexander Review FTSE Women Leaders, Improving Gender Balance - 5 year summary report, February 2021)

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