British investor group warns laggards over lack of boardroom mix

LONDON (Reuters) – Twenty percent of Britain’s largest companies have been put on notice by the fund management industry’s trade body for failing to have more women represented on their boards.

The Investment Association said it had written to 69 British companies which it said have no women on their boards or just one asking them for explanations following the government-backed Hampton-Alexander Review which set a target of ensuring women make up at least a third of leadership teams by 2020.

“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,” the association’s Chief Executive Chris Cummings said in a statement on Friday.

The letter comes just ahead of the season for most companies’ annual general meeting, where investors vote on a range of issues including board membership, and which are set to see increased push-back from investors over poor performers.

The IA’s voter information service IVIS, which investors use to help them decide how to vote at AGMs, said in February it would give its highest-level ‘red-top’ warning about all companies which have just one woman on their board.

Philip Hampton, Chair of the Hampton-Alexander Review, said while most companies had made good progress, “a surprising number” had just one woman and needed to do more.

Among the biggest of the FTSE 350 companies to receive a letter are wealth manager St James’s Place, retailer JD Sports and insurer Just Group.

A spokeswoman for Just Group said it had taken action and would provide a response to the IA shortly and give more detail on its activities in a soon-to-be-published annual report.

St James’s Place said in a statement: “As a key priority, we aim to increase the representation of women in senior positions across our business, including at Board level”, and had signed up to two industry initiatives to do that.

JD Sports did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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