Frustrated by the FTSE 350’s “one step forward, two steps back” progress towards getting more women on boards, I’ve had an idea.
Why not create a Female Stock Exchange dedicated to helping companies run by or for women to raise finance and grow?
Let’s face it, thanks to uncertainty over Brexit, the City is already in flux, a situation exacerbated by the possible merger of the London Stock Exchange with Deutsche Boerse. So why not shake things up further?
The catalyst for this radical idea is the dismal findings from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) last month which concluded that FTSE 350 companies are paying lip service to gender equality on boards with many largely relying on ‘old boys’ networks’ to recruit to board roles.
So how could a Female Stock Exchange work?
By dedicating itself to helping companies run for or by women, a Female Stock Exchange could provide a platform to help female-oriented firms to raise finance from like-minded investors committed to helping gender-diverse businesses to grow.
The kind of companies I’d like to see listed on the Female Stock Exchange include Blaze, maker of the innovative LED and laser projection bike light, founded by chief executive Emily Brooke; digital transformation company Freeformers, co-founded by chief operating officer Emma Cerrone; or Open Bionics, the robotics start-up developing affordable bionic hands for amputees, co-founded by chief operating officer Samantha Payne.
Crucially any company listing on the Female Stock Exchange would have to be able to deliver reasonable market returns.
All companies seeking to list would also be required to meet certain commitments to diversity – a minimum 30 per cent female board representation, clear pipelines for promoting female talent and transparent recruitment practices.
And while I am primarily concerned with promoting gender diversity on boards, I think the Female Stock Exchange could play a role in championing ethnic and LGBT diversity by encouraging like-minded companies to list.
Interestingly, there is a precedent for launching a platform for ethical investing in the form of The Social Stock Exchange (SSE). Launched in 2013, The Social Stock Exchange claims “to be dedicated to businesses and investors seeking to achieve a positive social and environmental impact through their activities.”
In order to be listed, companies must be able to deliver viable returns and demonstrate how they will stick to their social/environmental mandates and missions. Nearly three years on, the Social Stock Exchange has a membership of over 30 firms – including Good Energy and wind turbine manufacturer City Windmills with a collective value of £2.1bn.
So perhaps a Female Stock Exchange is not as outlandish an idea as it might seem.
Let’s not forget, it took the London Stock Exchange 200 years to admit the first women – or ‘lady members’, as they quaintly liked to call them, back in 1973.
To misappropriate an old adage; if you can’t join them, beat them.