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E2W - Weekly Virtual Coffee Break - with Denise Wilson

E2W - Weekly Virtual Coffee Break - with Denise Wilson

Mark.Freed / 05 May 2020

On Wednesday 22nd April, we were delighted to welcome Denise Wilson, CEO of the Hampton-Alexander Review, to our virtual coffee break about gender equality in UK business. Denise provided updates on the Hampton-Alexander Review for 2020, which is in its final year of a five year review period.

Denise updated the group on developments since the last publication of the Hampton-Alexander Review report in November 2019 which include:

  •  FTSE 100 meeting the target of 33% women on boards in February 2020, almost a year ahead of target (
  •  A joint letter campaign by the Hampton-Alexander Review and the Investment Association to Chairs and CEOs across the FTSE 350 where slow progress has been made to improve the gender balance in their leadership teams and/or on their board. Chairs and CEOs were asked to outline what action is being taken to improve the gender balance to ensure they meet the Hampton-Alexander Review targets by the end of 2020 (
  •  Amendment to the 2020 timeline for the Hampton-Alexander Review: recognising the impact of the global COVID-19 outbreak on all business activities and priorities in the short-term and to capture as much progress as possible in this final target year, the leadership gender data reporting date has been delayed until 31st October 2020, with data submissions anticipated during November 2020.

 This was followed by Q&A covering some of the topics as follows:     

Q:  Why do you feel you have to be ‘softer’ on companies in this time [during the pandemic]? Wouldn’t it be an opportunity to reinforce the message?

A: The approach is softer than it would have been because in the very short-term, business will have priorities such as closing operations down, furloughing employees, enabling/managing remote working etc. so recruitment may, understandably, be of a lower priority for some companies. However, business needs strength in its leadership in a crisis more than ever to survive in the short-term and to position themselves well in the longer term. In particular, it needs people with fresh energy, new ideas and perspectives drawn from a different life and work experience.

However, on meeting the targets of 33% women on boards and 33% women in leadership by the end of 2020, there can be no excuses. Many of the boards have been on this journey for 5-10 years and others, although they may have joined the FTSE 350 more recently, should be able to achieve the targets for boards and women in leadership across all sectors, not least because there is no shortage of experienced and capable women. The 33% targets are seen as the floor, not the ceiling.

Q: If the gender pay gap reports went out now (note: the reporting requirement was suspended for 2020 in light of the pandemic), would they break through in the news?

A: Clearly they wouldn’t get the column inches they may have received a few months ago, but it is important to keep the drum beat up; there is a lot of positive messaging around gender equality and it is seen as a core business topic and important element of great leadership; progress made to date must not be lost and that is a view that is widely shared, in spite of the pandemic and the challenges it brings to business.  

Q:  Can Denise give some more colour on the barriers [to progression] she mentioned?

A: Gender stereotyping (e.g. the woman in the room is the minute taker and not the boss); assumptions on ambition and role preference (e.g. women do not like to travel as it will take them away from home); bias in the selection and pay process; everyday sexisms in the workplace (e.g. women being asked to organise team socials or organise cards and presents for birthdays/leaving do’s etc); gender pay gap; Gender Say Gap; the double-burden of work and bulk of domestic responsibilities in home; and there are many more!

Q:  As an employee, if you feel that the department you work for is lacking in diversity and you are being overlooked, how can you highlight this /discuss with senior management without alienating yourself?

A: Prepare your case and present a fact-based rationale in a calm and positive manner, setting out why you feel as you do. This may include gender balance by seniority, latest rounds on promotions or work allocations that you consider have been excluding or a skewed gender balance. Remember it is perfectly reasonable to ask how your performance rating, pay or bonus matches up to others in the team; your manager may stumble on this conversation the first time, but they will learn not only how to communicate on topics such as this, but to think about it and pay more attention too. 

You should articulate your own ambition very clearly, including expectations of yourself and your workplace over the next few years. Ask your manager how they can help you achieve your ambition and what you need to do to help yourself. Repeat your ambition often, not just at appraisal time - and share this with other relevant, interested parties when you have the opportunity.


For further information on the Hampton-Alexander Review, please visit the website at

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