Leading fund Hermes Investment Management slams a lack of diversity in Britain's boardrooms

Madeline Ratcliffe
Follow Madeline
Less than a quarter of institutional investors believe gender diversity on boards is important (Source: Getty)

The glass ceiling is barely cracked, as the latest figures show that only 8.6 per cent of executive board positions are held by women, and female bosses earn around three-quarters of what their male counterparts take home.

Only 23 per cent of institutional investors, including major pension funds, believe that gender-diversity on boards is important, which may explain why in the last five years there has only been a 3.3 per cent rise in women holding executive positions, according to Hermes Investment Management's Responsible Capitalism survey.

Harriet Steel, head of business development, at Hermes said: “On the surface, the corporate world is making great strides in improving its record on diversity. There are greater numbers of women and ethnic minorities in increasingly senior positions. [But] the results show there is some way before the glass ceiling is cracked in the board room and on issues of pay.

“There have been a number of high-profile campaigns to improve diversity on boards, notably from groups such as the 30% Club. However, while these campaigns have achieved some progress, it is clear UK plc is still poorly diversified.”

While some of the most high-powered jobs in finance – US Federal Reserve chair, managing director of the IMF, head of the US Securities and Exchange Commission – are now held by women, there are only five female chief executives among Britain's blue-chip companies.

Read more: These are the worse sectors for boardroom diversity

Yet research by McKinsey & Co earlier this year found that companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians.

And US market-index provider MSCI released data last year that boards with gender diversity ‘had fewer instances of governance-related scandals such as bribery, corruption, fraud, and shareholder battles’.

Steel puts the lack of diversity on boards down to management seeing “diversity as a legislative chore, or simply another compliance target to be met. This is less institutional sexism or racism, but more a failure to recognise why diversity is important and the advantages it brings to a business.

“[It] avoids the pernicious and value-destroying practice of ‘group think’. It may be convenient for the members of a board to think in the same way, but it is rarely good for business," she said.

Related articles