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Top firms on course to miss gender targets as Sports Direct and Stobart shamed

Minister for Women Victoria Atkins said there is ‘no excuse’ for having an all-male board.

Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct and troubled Stobart group have been singled out for having all-male boards as a Government review warned that Britain’s biggest companies are on course to miss gender diversity targets.

The findings, part of the Hampton-Alexander Review of FTSE 350 businesses, shame ten companies that have yet to appoint a woman to the top table.

They are Sports Direct, Stobart, Baillie Gifford Japan Trust, Daejan Holdings, Herald Investment Trust, Integrafin Holdings, JP Morgan Japanese Investment Trust, On The Beach Group, TBC Bank and Ti Fluid Systems.

Rachel Reeves, chair of the business committee, criticised the firms, saying: “The inglorious ten companies who still have all-male boards need to drag themselves out of the dark-ages and ensure they bring in a more diverse and valuable perspective to the running of their businesses rather than running a closed club of the old-boys’ network.”

Minister for Women Victoria Atkins said there is “no excuse” for having an all-male board.

In its defence, Stobart said that it has identified an “excellent female candidate” for the position of independent non-executive director but the appointment is on hold until after its AGM on July 6.

Sports Direct has said in the past that it recognises the “value and need for female representation on the board, and we are taking steps to address this”.

Launched in 2016, the review set FTSE 350 businesses a target of having 33% of all board and senior leadership positions held by women by the end of 2020.

However, an interim update showed that firms may fall short of the target.

While the number of women on boards has increased to 25.5% in FTSE 350 companies, about 40% of all appointments need to go to women in the next two years for the FTSE 350 to achieve the 33% target.

Those firms that are “lagging behind” are being urged to emulate the likes of Whitbread, Diageo and fashion retailer Next.

Review chair Sir Philip Hampton said: “Far too many companies still have no women – or only one woman on their board.”

However, in better news, FTSE 100 firms are on track to reach the 33% target.

A total of 305 positions – 29% of FTSE 100 board positions – are now held by women, up from 12.5% in 2011, according to fresh figures.

However, Ms Reeves described the progress as taking place at “snail’s pace”.

“Many of our biggest companies still have a long way to go to meet the 2020 goals. Progress at the board table is at snail’s pace and far too few women are taking the helm as chief executives.

“FTSE 350 companies need to ramp up their efforts to open up these positions and ensure women are interviewed and appointed to senior jobs.

“Investors must play a part too and put pressure on company boards to redouble their efforts and ensure they recruit the best possible talent to run our biggest businesses.”

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