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.  

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'.