OUT OF BALANCE

CEOs of big UK companies are reluctant to commit to promoting women to top roles

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Image: Reuters/Andrew Winning
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A campaign to boost the number of women in Britain’s top corporate roles has asked companies to commit to 30% female representation in the executive ranks by 2020. So far, only 14 CEOs of the UK’s 100 largest publicly-traded companies have made the pledge.

The 30% Club started in the UK in 2010, focusing on gender diversity on the boards of FTSE 100 companies (the 100 biggest companies traded on London Stock Exchange). Since then, the organization says the percentage of female directors has risen from 12.5% to 27.9%. The group has since expanded its aim to increase the number of women in all senior management roles to 30%, up from around 25% today.

Making sure the workforce is fair and rewarding for women benefits everyone. Reducing gender inequality could boost economic growth by about 6% for advanced economies in the coming decades, according to economists at Citigroup.

Paul Polman, chief executive of consumer goods giant Unilever, and Emma Walmsley, who runs pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline, are among the CEOs who have committed to the 30% Club’s pledge. Yet many CEOs seem reluctant to publicly endorse the campaign.

The drive is gaining momentum, but some business leaders may be too distracted by global events to develop female talent and make sure women are included in succession plans, according to Brenda Trenowden, global chair of the 30% Club. She says the pace will pick up when qualified women resign to seek out the companies where the CEO firmly believes in a culture that is genuinely inclusive.