Sixty-nine firms, including Domino's Pizza, JD Sports Fashion and Greene King, have been written to by The Investment Association, a financial sector trade body, and the government-backed Hampton-Alexander Review for not having enough women on their boards.
The Review has threatened to mark the organisations as ‘red tops’ as a warning to investors about their lack of gender parity if they fail to appoint more women.
Out of the businesses singled out, 66 had appointed just one woman on their board, including 888 Holdings and Stobart Group. Three firms – property investor Daejan Holdings, Millennium & Copthorne Hotels and TR Property Investment Trust – have all-male boards.
The Investment Association’s chief executive Chris Cummings said it was "unacceptable" that one in five companies in the FTSE 350 index are falling short on gender diversity.
Tinu Cornish, director of SEA Change Consultancy and chair of the Diversity and Inclusion at Work Group, said that poor gender equality on boards is often the result of bias throughout the recruitment process.
“There are a mixture of things that are leading to this; which are both conscious and unconscious. A lot of people in these organisations often just don’t see women as having the right business acumen,” she told HR magazine.
“Typically business leaders will look for someone who has followed a very similar path to theirs. There is set of criteria for shortlists that are very gendered.”
Calling out organisations for their lack of action on gender equality is the right approach, she added: “It works wonderfully. If we look at gender pay reporting we can see that it’s having a really positive effect. This isn’t about naming and shaming, it’s about being transparent and being accountable and looking at what can get measured and what can get done.
“The best diversity champions are the ones who get stuff done. It requires effort and it requires hard work. Good and well-meaning conversations are not enough.”
Allyson Zimmermann, executive director, Europe at Catalyst, added that businesses cannot progress with gender diversity on boards without targets: “What we see around the world is that without a focused intent on prioritising gender diversity on corporate boards change does not happen. The setting and monitoring of targets can propel progress, coupled with possible regulation if targets are not met," she said.
Diversity increases business performance, Zimmermann added: “Diversity of thought drives innovation and business performance, and that means diverse perspectives are not only valued they are mandatory for growth.
"We need to appoint and promote more women, including ethnically- and racially-diverse women to boards, executive teams, and at every level of the company with metrics baked into the business and managed like any other success driver. All businesses must attract the top talent in the marketplace to compete globally, and those that aren’t addressing the gender diversity of their boards risk being left behind.”
The Hampton-Alexander Review was commissioned by the government in 2016 to deal with corporate gender inequality and set targets for Britain's biggest companies. It has ordered the UK’s 350 biggest firms to reach a target of 30% of their board members being female by 2020.