FTSE 350 firms under fire over ‘unacceptable’ lack of female directors

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Women in the boardroom FTSE 350 firms under fire over ‘unacceptable’ lack of female directors

Investor group urges listed firms with only one woman on board to address diversity targets

Targets set by the Hampton-Alexander review aim for women to make up at least 33% of FTSE 350 boards and leadership teams by 2020. Photograph: Richard Baker/Corbis via Getty Images

An influential investor group has written to more than 60 publicly listed companies with only a single female director, including Domino’s Pizza and JD Sports, raising concerns over a lack of gender diversity and warning of a backlash if progress is stalled.

The Investment Association (IA), which represents 250 firms with £7.7tn in assets under management, has joined up with the Hampton-Alexander review team to criticise FTSE 350 firms with “one and done” boardrooms that have a single female board member.

Q&A

Which firms have received the boardroom diversity letter?

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One-woman boards

St James's Place Plc

3i Infrastructure Plc

888 Holdings Plc

Acacia Mining Plc

Alliance Trust Plc

Amigo Holdings Plc

Avast Plc

Baillie Gifford Japan Trust Plc

BCA Marketplace Plc

Cairn Energy Plc

Caledonia Investments Plc

Capital Counties Properties Plc

Centamin Plc

Charter Court

City of London Investment Trust Plc

Clarkson Plc

ContourGlobal Plc

Diploma Plc

Domino's Pizza Group Plc

Edinburgh Dragon Trust Plc

Edinburgh Investment Trust Plc

Energean Oil & Gas Plc

F&C Commercial Property Trust Ltd

Ferrexpo Plc

Fidelity China Special Situations Plc

GCP Infrastructure Investments Ltd

Grafton Group Plc

Greencoat UK Wind Plc

Greene King Plc

HarbourVest Global Private Equity Ltd

Herald Investment Trust Plc

HG Capital Trust Plc

HICL Infrastructure Company Ltd

Hill & Smith Holdings Plc

Hilton Food Group Plc

Hochschild Mining Plc

IP Group Plc

JD Sports Fashion Plc

JPMorgan American Investment Trust Plc

JPMorgan Emerging Markets Investment Trust Plc

JPMorgan Japanese Investment Trust Plc

Jupiter European Opportunities Trust Plc

Just Group Plc

Monks Investment Trust Plc

Pantheon International Plc

Personal Assets Trust Plc

Plus500 Ltd

Primary Health Properties Plc

Rank Group Plc

Restaurant Group Plc

Riverstone Energy Ltd

Schroder Asia Pacific Fund Plc

Softcat Plc

Stobart Group

Syncona Ltd

Telecom Plus Plc

Templeton Emerging Markets Investment Trust Plc

Tritax Big Box REIT Plc

Vietnam Enterprise Investments Ltd (Veil)

Witan Investment Trust Plc

Worldwide Healthcare Trust Plc

Apax Global Alpha Ltd

Civitas Social Housing Plc

NB Global Floating Rate Income Fund Ltd

Sequoia Economic Infrastructure Income Fund Ltd

VinaCapital Vietnam Opportunity Fund Ltd

All-male boards

Daejan Holdings Plc

Millennium & Copthorne Hotels Plc

TR Property Investment Trust Plc

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Domino’s Pizza Group; JD Sports Fashion; the pubs group Greene King, owner of the Wagamama and Garfunkel’s restaurant chains; and the gambling company 888 Holdings are among the 66 firms to receive the letter, having been singled out in the latest Hampton-Alexander review in November.

A further three companies with all-male boards – the property firm Daejan Holdings, Millennium & Copthorne Hotels and TR Property Investment Trust – have also received the letter.

Targets set by the government-commissioned Hampton-Alexander review aim for women to make up at least 33% of FTSE 350 boards and leadership teams by 2020. “Investors consider diversity to be a critical issue for business success,” the letter said.

Chris Cummings, the IA’s CEO, said: “Investors have been consistently clear that they want to see greater diversity in the boardroom so it is totally unacceptable that one in five of the UK’s biggest companies are falling so far short. Companies must do more than take the tokenistic step of appointing just one woman to their board and consider that job done.

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“There is also compelling evidence that boards with greater gender balance outperform their less-diverse peers. These companies must up their game and explain clearly how they are planning to meet the Hampton-Alexander targets, or risk investor dissent at their AGM.”

The IA has already pledged that its Institutional Voter Information Service will give a “red top” or highest warning level to firms that fail to address a lack of female representation. It says those issues “will also be noted against the re-election of the chair of the nominations committee” ahead of each company’s annual general meeting.

The shareholder advisory firm Glass Lewis has historically taken aim at nomination committee heads and voted against their re-election if they continued to be led by all-male boards.

Call for boycott of FTSE 350 firms without a woman on the board

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But Martin Garcia Mortell, Glass Lewis’s director of research for the UK and Europe, told the Guardian earlier this month that attention would be turned to boards with only one woman among senior ranks.

The IA and Hampton-Alexander team are now urging dozens of firms, including Acacia Mining, the online gambling group 888 Holdings and the Frankie and Benny’s owner, Restaurant Group, to draw up a clear roadmap for how they plan to address the gender imbalance.

The letter said: “We would like you to set out how you intend to make genuine progress to improving board diversity. We therefore ask you to set out what actions the board is taking to ensure that substantial progress is made to meet the Hampton-Alexander 2020 targets.”

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