A letter sent to each of the companies by trade body The Investment Association and the UK government-backed Hampton-Alexander review, which was set up to deal with corporate gender inequality, calls on them to meet the review’s target of having 33 per cent of women on their board and leadership team by 2020 and asks what steps they are taking to meet the goal.
Of the firms singled out, 66 have only one woman on their board, while three – property investor Daejan Holdings, Millennium & Copthorne Hotels and TR Property Investment Trust – have an all-male board.
The move comes after the Investment Association, whose 250 members manage £7.7 trillion of assets, announced in February that it would brand companies with a “red top” warning for investors in a bid to pressure companies to appoint more women.
The Investment Association’s boss Chris Cummings said it is “unacceptable” that one in five of the UK’s biggest companies is falling short on gender diversity.
“Companies must do more than take the tokenistic step of appointing just one woman to their board and consider that job done,” he said.
“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 annual general meeting.”
Lord Smith of Kelvin, chairman of Alliance Trust, said that one of the first things he did when he took on the role was to appoint a female director.
“The board believes we need to improve diversity further, not as a target for its own sake, but to expand the range of views and opinions that feed into the board’s decision-making processes,” he said.
The Hampton-Alexander review was commissioned by the UK government in 2016 to deal with corporate gender inequality and set targets for Britain’s biggest companies.
Last week, a response by the UK government to a review led by NatWest’s deputy chief executive Alison Rose into barriers facing female entrepreneurs revealed plans for financial institutions to be asked to publish details of how many women-led businesses they back. NatWest, Lloyds and UK Finance were among the first to indicate interest in signing up for the Female Entrepreneurs Code to publish gender funding data.