Overcoming barriers to equality

Overcoming barriers to equality

Four years on from its inception the Hampton-Alexander review into boardroom equality has succeeded in one of its key aims; that of achieving one third female representation in UK FTSE100 companies. That the target was achieved a year ahead of schedule is to be applauded. But is this a true step forward for equality or simply window dressing?

Announcing the achievement, the headline on the Government’s press release includes the comment that the ‘Business Secretary says more needs to be done.’ And the full text of the announcement also pulls no punches; highlighting the fact that just 15% of Finance Directors are women and that at 29.5% female representation within the FTSE250 still needs to improve.

Moreover, female representation at senior leadership level is still lagging behind where it needs to be in order to deliver a pipeline of future leaders. This led CBI Director-General, Dame Carolyn Fairbairn DBE, to comment: “We are still seeing too few women as the executive, day-to-day decision makers of our leading companies – whether that’s as CEOs, MDs, or finance directors. Companies must do everything possible to create inclusive cultures and support talented people from all walks of life into these top jobs.”

Perhaps of more concern is the warning issued by the then Business Secretary, Andrea Leadsom, to the effect that businesses needed to look to their cultures in order to overcome the everyday sexism which women face in the workplace. Research by King’s College cites incidences of ‘micro aggression’ and ‘incivility’ being experienced on a regular basis. These include:

  • 33% of women reporting disrespectful or insulting remarks, compared with 13% of men.
  • 39% of women being targeted by angry outbursts or ‘temper tantrums’ compared to 23% of men.
  • 23% of women being shouted or sworn at by someone at work, compared to 16% of men.
  • 34% of women reporting that someone at work had ignored or failed to speak to them, or given them the “silent treatment” compared to 23% of men.

None of these behaviours are acceptable no matter who they are targeted at but the fact that they are disproportionately targeted at women indicates a workplace culture which adds sexism to general disrespect. Commenting on the research Professor Rosie Campbell, Director of the Global Institute for Women Leadership, King’s College London, said: “we need to ensure undermining behaviour is called out, not rewarded, and build an inclusive environment that embraces diverse leaders and allows everyone to thrive and give their best work.”


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