Strategy & Operations » Leadership & Management » Hampton raises issue of lagging female finance leadership

Sir Philip Hampton, chairman of pharmaceuticals giant GSK, who authored the Hampton-Alexander review that sought to raise the number of women on FTSE 350 boards, has raised concerns at the low level of women in senior finance roles.

Hampton told Financial Director: “The low proportion of women in senior positions in finance is a puzzle and concern. It’s a big disconnect from the gender mix at entry and a poor use of high potential. Recruitment, development and retention of high-quality women is common in many sectors but far too rare in finance.”

His comments came after the Hampton-Alexander review revealed growing female participation in senior board positions, but fewer C-suite roles including the number of CEOs in the FTSE-350 falling from 15 to 12.

His thoughts were revealed on the eve of the Financial Director Women in Finance event, produced in association with Bronzegate, that aims to determine why female participation in the C-suite is so low. Jessica White, CFO at Barratt Developments, said: “I hope the event is a great success as it’s an important issue. Anything that can be done to raise the profile of this and to ultimately increase the number of female CFOs is clearly to be welcomed.”

Rebecca Long Bailey MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said: ‘’It is deeply disappointing that in the centenary year of some women winning the right to vote, women are still fighting for the right to be heard in the boardrooms of top companies. Having only 12 female CEOs in the FTSE 350 is simply not good enough.

“Financial Director Women in Finance event will be a good opportunity to explore the barriers to greater diversity in business and how to take forward efforts to improve gender balance,’’ she added.

Raising the issue

Loraine Woodhouse, CFO of car parts retailer Halfords, said  “I send my apologies that I can’t join this group of women leaders in finance for today’s breakfast and discussion. We are seeing change at the highest levels of finance as more women are recruited into senior roles, but there is still a long way to go.

“They say that “you can’t be what you can’t see”, which is why creating role models is so important, to inspire women and girls to aim high and to show how dynamic, challenging and rewarding a career in finance can be,” added Woodhouse.

 “I am happy to support female finance leadership and thank all participants for putting time into this. It is important to let all talent rise, especially in the field of finance, said Dame Fiona Woolf, who was 686th Lord Mayor of London, but only the second woman to hold the post.

Sir Kenneth Olisa, Lord-Lieutenant of Greater London, who is a member of the Parker Review that superseded the Hampton-Alexander review, said: “Unfortunately, all too often discussion about diversity and inclusion stalls because the audience – especially senior management – hears “blah, blah, blah, social justice”.

“Yet it is obvious that unless your business culture is founded on empathy with your customers, your supply chain, your employees and your regulator, you will lose out to competitors who do. The argument therefore should be that effective diversity is a competitive advantage.  And no “blah”,” he added.

Deanna Oppenheimer, Chair, Hargreaves Lansdown, said: ““We are committed to diversity and to support the progression of women at all levels of the business and into senior roles. Diversity amongst board members is of great value but it is a far wider subject than just gender – it is diversity of thought which makes the real difference. We are pleased with the progress we are making and to support initiatives which improve equality, diversity and inclusion.

Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland said: “Ensuring that women are properly represented in senior decision-making positions should be an imperative for private sector companies as it quite rightly is for governments. “We know that greater diversity in the boardroom leads to better performance by encouraging new and innovative thinking and better decision making. In other words, it is the smart thing to do as well as the right thing,” she added.