Philip Hampton

I don’t envy Philip Hampton. Tackling the dearth of women in UK boardrooms is an almighty challenge, one that experts have attempted to unravel and understand for decades and one that the GlaxoSmithKline chairman must now take on in his new role as business equality tsar.

As Hampton will be all too aware, fmcg as a sector has so far failed to find the solution, illustrated in The Grocer’s own Power List 2016. Of 100 influential industry figures, only 10% are women – just 2% more than last year’s list. The top female (at number 20) is Groceries Code Adjudicator Christine Tacon.

It’s a bleak picture made only more frustrating by the fact we know the talent is there. Fifty-seven per cent of the buzzing young entrepreneurs and business leaders in our Top New Talent 2015 were women, all energetically planning high-powered careers in fmcg. But somewhere along the pipeline that talent is getting lost. Where is it disappearing to?

If Hampton has any hope of getting more women into senior positions across all industries, he’ll need to search for a comprehensive answer to that question rather than fixating on the 25% target set by the Lord Davies Commission. The ‘Women on Boards’ campaign was largely hailed a success for doubling female board representation to 25% across FTSE 100 companies, but a closer look reveals that success is largely illusory. Real power lies in executive roles and women only occupy about 8% of those positions in consumer goods companies, with the rest filled up by women in non-exec roles. Changing that requires a longer-term look along the talent pipeline to identify when and why women aren’t climbing the promotional ladder at the same speed as men.

Hampton’s job will be made harder still by his need to justify his own appointment to the role. Criticism already levelled at the chairman has been two-pronged; first at GSK’s own gender diversity record – only four of its 15 board members are women (26%), all non-executives – and secondly at Hampton himself. Why has a man been picked to lead a campaign to get more women into leadership positions? It’s ironic the government is seemingly unable to find a suitable woman to take on the role.

Nevertheless, the task has been handed to Hampton and his success or failure holds real implications for fmcg. As Nestlé UK’s CEO and chairman Fiona Kendrick (number 28 on our Power List) said at an event looking at productivity this week, the “single biggest challenge” we face as a sector is recruiting enough skilled talent. The FDF estimates the industry will need an additional 109,000 people by 2022. If we’re failing to support and nurture talented women more than capable of growing into future leaders then it’s bad for future productivity, bad for the bottom line and ultimately bad for business.