Ambitious female leadership target set by pressure group


16 Dec 2021

A campaign to boost female blue-chip leadership has secured the backing of some big hitters, finds Andrew Holt.


A campaign to boost female blue-chip leadership has secured the backing of some big hitters, finds Andrew Holt.


A campaign to boost female blue-chip leadership has secured the backing of some big hitters, finds Andrew Holt.

The latest diversity drive in the City has set an ambitious target of a quarter of chief executives in the FTSE100 being female within three years.

However, the 25×25 initiative has won the backing of some major players with Unilever, BP, Morgan Stanley, GlaxoSmithKline and NatWest among those pledging their support.

And the campaign will not end if that goal is achieved. Its leadership then intends to target a quarter of bosses in the FTSE All Share being women.

This is not the first campaign to push for more female voices among the decision-makers at the largest companies in the UK. The government-backed Hampton Alexander review, led by Sir Philip Hampton and the late Dame Helen Alexander, focuses on boosting the number of women in the boardroom.

This campaign has enjoyed some success in boosting the number of female non-executives – with more than a third of board seats in the FTSE350 now occupied by women.

At the top of the totem pole

But campaigners have expressed concern over the lack of women at the highest level in Britain’s corporate boardrooms – with only nine female bosses in the FTSE100. These include Severn Trent, ITV, Premier Inn-owner Whitbread, NatWest and GlaxoSmithKline.

Nine appears to be the average for women leading the UK’s listed businesses with the same number sitting in the chief executive’s chair in the FTSE250 index of smaller companies. The businesses that have signed up so far have done so with a commitment to ensure women are given opportunities at the right time in their career progression.

Deborah Gilshan, an independent adviser on investment stewardship and ESG who founded The 100% Club, told portfolio institutional that she supports this initiative as its seeks to “address the scarcity of female talent at the top of organisations, including in key leadership positions such as the chief executive officer role.

“It is just not credible that there are not enough women who have the leadership traits and skillset to be the CEO of a company. This also matters from a role model perspective – we need visibility of female role models, especially in creating different perceptions of what leadership looks like.

“When we look up, we need to see and hear women participating at the highest levels of business and across the economy,” Gilshan added. “There is also interesting research on the different leadership traits that female leaders tend to bring.”

Monitoring progress

It is also another case of what gets measured matters. “Measurable, time bound targets are also critical – especially in terms of monitoring progress, and I am encouraged by the number of companies, and their CEOs, publicly supporting this initiative,” Gilshan says.

“We know that diverse talent is out there. However, for sustainable change, we should be careful that targets are not met from a compliance perspective. It is also important that there is an inclusive approach to improving the representation of women at the top and across organisations that increases opportunities for all women,” she adds.

Best practices regarding talent management and succession planning have been drawn up by the campaign, which will look at how to assist with the career path to the chief executive’s chair, alongside better accountability and overall targets.

Crucial step

Creating access for women to the most senior positions in corporate Britain is vitally important for Bernard Looney, BP’s chief executive and a 25×25 lead ambassador. “A crucial step in allowing women the right to progress as they deserve is to make sure they get the jobs that give them the experience that allows them to compete,” he said.

The campaign is also looking to develop data tools to assist its work. The first is a public tool designed to encourage companies, shareholders, stock indices and other organisations to track gender balance at executive leadership levels. The second is a private benchmarking tool designed for its members.

This data generated here could be used to support indices of companies ranked by their results on gender balance – alongside that of other ESG criteria.

This drive also comes after a consultation with more than 200 companies, including 90% of the FTSE 100.

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