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Retales™: Retailers set targets for women on boards

Nick Thorpe


United Kingdom

Retales™: Retailers set targets for women on boards

Gender equality is back in the headlines, with a number of retailers agreeing to set targets to increase the number of women in senior positions.

In February 2011, Lord Davies published the "Women on boards" report, revealing that, in 2010, women made up only 12.5% of the members of the corporate boards of FTSE 100 companies. The report recommends, amongst other targets, that FTSE 100 boards should aim for a minimum of 25% female representation by 2015. Lord Davies also calls on chairmen to announce their aspirational goals by September 2011.

The retail sector has responded to the drive to increase female representation at board level. Morrisons, for example, has promised to more than double the number of women in senior positions. Only 13% of Morrisons senior management team are women so, in an effort to ensure that "women can move from the shop floor to the top floor", Morrisons is aiming to increase that figure to 30% by 2014. Interestingly, Morrisons has also called on its suppliers to aspire to similar targets and employ more women in senior roles.

A new "30% Club" has also recently been launched. This group of chairmen is voluntarily committed to bringing more women onto UK corporate boards, aiming to exceed the targets set by Lord Davies. A number of retailers are already members of the 30% Club, including John Lewis, Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury's.

Such targets are not confined to the UK. Earlier this year, the EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding challenged publicly listed companies in Europe to sign a "Women on the Board Pledge for Europe" by March 2012. This pledge represents a commitment to increase women’s presence on corporate boards to 30% by 2015 and to 40% by 2020. LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and Guerlain are amongst those who have already signed the pledge.

With the drive, both in the UK and in Europe, to increase female representation in the workplace, there are a number of employment law issues to consider. For example, how should retailers implement these targets in their own organisation; do recruitment processes need to be revisited; have the discrimination implications of such targets been considered and should retailers be relying on the positive action provisions under the Equality Act 2010? Retailers may also need to consider other gender issues across the organisation, including equal pay (click here to read our recent Retales alerter on how to conduct an equal pay audit).

If you would like further advice on the implications of gender diversity in the retail sector, please contact Nick Thorpe, Employment Partner.

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