Speech

Women in senior leadership: launch of the Hampton-Alexander review report

Business Minister Margot James speaks at the launch of the independent report by Sir Philip Hampton and Dame Helen Alexander.

Good morning everybody.

I am very pleased to be here with my ministerial colleague Caroline Dinenage, to launch this important report.

It’s a credit to those who put it together, so I would like to begin by thanking Sir Philip, Dame Helen and their steering group for all the work they have done to get us to this point.

The issue of female representation has always been close to my heart. I spent more than two-thirds of my career in business, and over that time I worked with many talented and accomplished women. But all too often, I was the only woman at the table.

It has therefore been hugely encouraging over the last few years to see business leaders embrace the need for gender diversity – particularly at the top of business.

We have faced a similar challenge in Parliament. And while I’m pleased to say we have seen a lot of progress with a significant increase in the number of female MPs and women in government, there is still more work to be done to ensure that our political system is representative of the people we serve.

And in business and politics alike, this matters.

When we draw on men and women, from a variety of ethnic and social backgrounds, it makes a difference. We all benefit from more diverse perspectives – not only encouraging better dialogue, but better decisions and better leadership.

It also helps to build trust. When the people at the top table reflect the people that work for them and the customers they serve, there are better results. There is the feeling that businesses are serving their social purpose and operating for the benefit of the many, not just the privileged few.

We have made a start, doubling the proportion of women on FTSE 100 boards from 12.5% in 2011 to almost 27% today. Six years ago 21% of FTSE 100 boards had no female members, but this year that number stands at zero.

It’s good progress, and I’m pleased to pay tribute to the Davies Review team for the work they did towards this transformation.

But for women to be truly represented in business they need to be in top executive positions. And if we want to have more women on boards, we need to ensure that talented women have a clear path to get there.

So I am delighted that Sir Philip and Dame Helen have produced this report.

It is the first time figures have been collected on the number of women in the top 2 levels of decision making in the FTSE 100 and FTSE 250.

It’s obvious that where we are is not good enough. But at least we are not starting from the bottom.

Almost a third of FTSE 100 senior appointments in 2015 went to women. Already a fifth of the FTSE 100 are either meeting or exceeding the 33% target identified by the review.

This clearly proves that it’s perfectly possible for at least a third of senior positions to be filled by women. Nor should it be a stretch to see at least two-fifths of appointments to operating committees and direct reports going to women.

We need to build on these advances.

We know that women are outperforming men at all levels of education, except for the fact that they are under- represented in the STEM subjects. Indeed, 10% more women than men enrol in higher education, a gap which is so significant that there are calls for the playing field to be levelled.

Yet despite this difference, most graduate recruitment programmes are achieving gender balance. And despite equality of qualifications, as we go up the ladder there are fewer and fewer women.

Even if women are able to get into positions of power, they are frequently at a disadvantage compared to their male counterparts.

One example is those women who become mothers during their careers. At a time when they need particular help and understanding from employers, often these women not given enough support. The government is working with business groups and the Equality and Human Rights Commission to reinforce the rights of pregnant women.

But it is still true that in an unacceptably high number of cases, women face workplace discrimination, or even unemployment as a direct result of pregnancy.

And even where women aren’t directly discriminated against in their work, on average they still earn 18.1% less than male colleagues.

All these factors mean that women are being discriminated against, as their careers progress, and business and society continue to lose out on female talent.

I urge businesses to look at what is happening at every level of their organisation. To collect data. To set expectations. To make sure that women are able to get the experience, development and support they need from an early stage in their careers to be able to move into leadership roles.

While the review has identified a target for FTSE 100 companies, I hope to see all businesses – whether in the FTSE 250, privately owned or partnerships – to take action.

Our targets are ambitious – but still lower than some of the targets that have been set elsewhere. I don’t want to see the business-led approach – so successfully championed in the UK – start to lose steam.

What I want to see is demonstrable corporate responsibility and greater public recognition for business as a force for good. To achieve this, more inclusive boardrooms are crucial.

So I am pleased to announce a new initiative to support this today.

Since 2014, the UK government has been piloting a scheme to help talented women get the experience they need to get their first board appointment.

So far the scheme has placed 10 women in training positions on the boards of public sector partner organisations, while a similar scheme, called Board Apprentice, has been doing the same in the private sector for all under-represented groups.

The response from participating boards, women and their employers has been overwhelmingly positive. A number of the women who have taken part have already secured full board appointments.

The 2 have now been combined into the Future Boards Scheme, which is being launched today in partnership with the 30% Club. The scheme gives women from a wide range of backgrounds the opportunity to spend 12 months with boards in a developmental capacity.

I am also pleased to be able to announce today that Hammerson, Aviva and the Student Loans Company have all signed up to be founding members of the Future Boards Scheme.

I will be encouraging more private sector companies, public bodies and other organisations to get involved too.

If, together, we can provide direct access to the widest possible range of existing boards, then I believe the Future Boards Scheme has real potential to significantly brighten the future for female executives.

This isn’t ‘just’ good for women – it’s good for business, and it’s good for society at large.

Many of you will have heard the Prime Minister’s maiden speech on the steps of 10 Downing Street. In it, she talked about building an “economy that works for everyone”.

It’s a message with inclusivity at its heart, and it’s the message which will define this government.

We want to see a thriving, ambitious, diverse country, where everyone gets a fair chance. That’s this government’s mission. That’s my department’s mission. And I hope it will become your mission too.

Thank you.