Governance Watch - Issue 29

by Dina Medland in London


In 2018, International Women’s Day turns a spotlight on the need for better corporate governance as never before. It is about dealing with inequality, and the gender pay gap, about ending discrimination and focusing on the lack of opportunity for women across business, about recognising double standards when it comes to progression, about remembering the importance of reputation, and more. 

While many businesses pull out the bunting on social media to flag how much they believe in women today, the media headlines may offer a more accurate indication of the true state of play.

The UK government marked the start of the day with an announcement on the record number of women – 29% -  now holding FTSE 100 board positions. This means that FTSE 100 boards are on track to hit the target of a third of board positions to be held by women by 2020.

Business Minister Andrew Griffiths said: “International Women’s Day is about celebrating women’s achievements and I am delighted to see that a record number of our largest companies’ board positions are now filled by women. There has been a lot of progress in recent years with high-flying women breaking down barriers to more than double the number of women on FTSE 100 boards but there is still a lot more to do to ensure that women are not held back in the workplace.” 

Celebration is the ethos of the day, but the campaign for more women in non-executive positions in the boardroom - taken on its own - is suddenly looking very dated. The global momentum of the calling out of sexual harassment, which was covered in a previous Governance Watch, has been an empowering force for women. Its consequences may prove to be very messy indeed for businesses already under scrutiny. The government announcement today also points to EIGHT all-male boards in the FTSE 100. How can they justify it? 


Looking at inequality and the gender pay gap, over 1,400 companies in the UK have now reported their gender pay gaps, revealing an overall pay gap of 18.4%, according to today’s UK government announcement. Under new laws all private companies with more than 250 employees must report their gender pay gaps by April 4.

But the litigation has already begun. Next facing £30m equal pay claim from shop floor staff reads a headline with a story covering the first major equal pay claim against a major fashion retailer. Last month we had Tesco faces record £4bn equal pay claim. We might not care as we exit the EU, but France to fine companies for not fixing their gender pay gap. 

Note the use of technology in the last story, which was covered as increasingly an essential tool for the HR department in my blog, Board Talk. 

When the UK government began its drive for more women on boards with a review by Lord Davies in 2011 on their lack of representation, it could not have foreseen where we are today on either the frustrations on productivity and skills or the clamour for equal rights. If we can think back that far, it was also before the vote for Brexit. You only have to search for ‘women on boards’ on the Financial Times today, on #IWD2018, to see how much the focus has changed. 

Among the top six results you will find Gender investment gap widens among high earners, Women lawyers say sexual harassment is fact of life at UK law firms; Reputations on the line as UK gender gap deadline nears; Why domestic abuse is an employers business too .If that’s all a bit ‘touchy-feely’ for boardrooms (particularly the remaining all-male ones) then it’s worth noting Female talent seeks out less controversial routes to the top with the sub-head : Lack of boardroom opportunity is fostering entrepreneurial alternatives.

Statistics just out from Eurostat reveal the UK and Germany to have among the highest gender pay gaps in Europe. In all EU Member States, except Spain, it says, the gender pay gap in the financial and insurance activities is higher than in the business economy as a whole. This is the latest statement from the Organisational for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on closing the gender pay gap in the UK. 

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