‘Yet another man’ – lawyers rap FTSE gender initiative

Topics: City,Equality and diversity,Government & politics

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Feminist lawyers have joined in criticism of the government over the appointment of a man to lead an initiative aimed at boosting gender diversity among corporate executives.

Last week the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills announced that Sir Philip Hampton, chair of GlaxoSmithKline and former chair of RBS and Sainsbury’s, had been appointed to lead an 'independent review' to increase the number of women at executive level of FTSE 350 companies.  

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BIS's announcement states that Hampton's first move was to appoint Dame Helen Alexander, chair of multinational media company UBM and non-executive director of Rolls-Royce Group Plc, as his deputy chair.

However, barrister Jo Shaw (pictured), founder of the Feminist Lawyers Society, said Hampton’s appointment ‘suggests that a qualified woman couldn’t be found, which simply isn’t the case – I’m happy to recommend some if the government is short on ideas’.

Shaw acknowledged that Hampton had ‘demonstrable strengths’ but said his appointment was ‘another entirely avoidable example of women’s voices being ignored. It is especially regrettable on an issue where women’s experiences and views should be centre stage’.

Women and equalities minister Nicky Morgan said she did 'not believe it is only incumbent on women to speak out for women's equality, and that it is for women alone to fight this – we all have a responsibility'. But Shaw said it is vital that women ‘see other women in senior roles, whether it be on boards or review committees looking at more women on boards’.

Alexander would have been a ‘brilliant choice’ to lead the review, Shaw said. ‘Instead, yet another man is heading up government work on equality in the workplace.’

The review will continue on from the work of the Davies review, which was originally set up to increase the number of women on boards. The latter, led by Lord Davies of Abersoch, saw female representation on the FTSE 100 more than double to 26% in less than five years.  

Mary-Ann Wright, chair of the Law Society's Women Lawyers Division, said she did not object to the review 'being led by a man per se, although it would be interesting to know how much effort was spent in considering suitable candidates to lead the review'.

Law Society chief executive Catherine Dixon said women accounted for nearly half of all solicitors, but only 27% of partners, ‘and therefore we welcome the review’.

Dixon said: ‘We know that reasons vary as to why fewer women reach senior positions when compared to men, but the long-hours culture of the legal profession is a contributory factor.’

Business secretary Sajid Javid said Hampton had an 'impressive track record of creating a culture where women can thrive and succeed'.

Readers' comments (18)

  • If this review reaches any conclusions that could not accurately be predicted at this stage by anybody with a modicum of social or professional awareness, I will buy a large and unappetising hat with the sole intention of eating it.

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  • Maybe women have the good sense to avoid partnership positions, Mrs. Dixon, ever thought of that? I would certainly never want to be a partner again with all that responsibility and exposure to risk, not to mention run-off problems if you do not organise your succession properly.

    I seem to recall women wanting to be treated the same as men in the employment context. Now, as a direct result, they have to work until they are 67. Be careful what you isn for.

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  • In criticizing the appointment of a man to lead this review, isn't Ms Shaw basically saying rather than appoint the best PERSON for the job, it must go to a woman. How is that encouraging equality and diversity, or isn't that what she wants?

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  • This drive for 'gender equality' aggravates me. Women are out-performing men in every area of academia: they are getting higher grades (on average) at A-Level and are getting more 1st Class degrees from top rate university's.

    But there is a time-lag. No-one gets to partner starlight out of UNI. If one implies that companies will promote the best candidates to high up positions than surely its just a waiting game until more women get said positions (as previously stated they are now the better candidates).

    The senior partners qualified lets say 25 years ago. At that time more men where qualifying than women so it makes sense that more men are in those senior positions. So logic would suggest that in 15-25 years from now, more women will be in higher positions. And we're seeing this happen.

    The notion that 'business's' have a systematic bias towards men is absurd. The degrading notion that women need these 'reviews' also undermines their achievements.

    'Positive discrimination' will be probably be needed for men to get jobs come 25-30 years...

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  • Although the article is about "the appointment of a man to lead an initiative aimed at boosting gender diversity among corporate executives", comments have been about the relative scarcity of women in senior positions in law.

    I suspect the true cause of this phenomenon is that women still do most of the child rearing, which means their commitment to work - long hours - comes across as less, and so they are passed over or even decline advancement because of the additional responsibilities and time commitment. Some cope well with this, but not everyone has amazing and reliable child care help on tap, and for very many I suspect it is primarily DIY. If more men took on more of the child care role, more women may prosper. Anecdotally one hears this is happening, but it will take years to work its way through.

    And yes, there probably are senior lawyers who view women as bad business risks because of the prospect of pregnancy and child care responsibilities limiting their commitment.

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  • The suggestion that this initiative must be led by a woman is absurd, unhelpful and indeed echoes the problem of sexism in appointments that the initiative is surely intended to fight against.

    However, I have no problem with the idea behind the initiative itself. The reality is that women become gradually less and less represented at each tier of the legal profession, and far from being a relic of the past, we still witness a higher proportion of women leaving the profession at each level. Thus, this is certainly not a case of simply waiting for things to level out and there is nothing inherently wrong with considering what can actively be done to help.

    I am sure that childcare responsibilities must play some part in this. There are numerous statistics indicating that women are more likely than men to give up their careers or go part time after having children, and this can't be discounted as a factor in career progression. From an employer's point of view, I can see why they would favour somebody who had not had a career break, so perhaps the answer is for society to treat men and women exactly the same as far as children are concerned. I.e., women should not be vilified for combining working with motherhood, and men should feel equally able to put their career on hold for the sake of their family. I don't for a second pretend to know how these attitudes could be changed, but I suspect that they are part of the problem.

    Incidentally, I cannot help but think a better work life balance culture would be of huge benefit to everyone in the legal profession, whether man, woman, or other.

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  • The systematic dismantling of the High Street legal profession, from removal of legal aid in family and criminal work, together with the attacks on personal injury and clinical negligence work by the government will do far more to enhance the gender imbalance than any expensive quango.
    Where is the money coming from to pay Mr Hampton for his high-faluting role?
    I have worked long and hard (not only as a lawyer, but to have and raise 3 children) to reach my position as partner in a small high street firm - a position which looks likely to disappear, along with a number of my employees if the small claims limit in personal injury is increased to £5000 and we are prevented from bringing claims on behalf of those suffering from "whiplash injuries".

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  • Here we go again. Discrimination is OK as long as it is the right kind.....

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  • The reaction from the Feminist Lawyers Society seems to be predicated on Sir Philip's gender rather than his ability to do the job. Touch of misandrist bigotry perhaps?

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  • What is the opposite to misogamy?

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