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Women must make up one-third of senior directors by 2020, companies told

Nearly 70 UK companies have been told to employ more women in senior roles.

Domino’s Pizza, JD Sports and Greene King are among those that have called out by financial trade sector body The Investment Association and the Hampton-Alexander review, a diversity study backed by the government.

The two organisations have written to 69 British companies on the FTSE 350 index rebuking them for falling short on gender diversity.

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Out of the firms named in the letter, 66 have just one woman employed at board level whereas three have all-male boards.

The letter calls on these companies to have 33 per cent of their boards made up of women by 2020.

The Investment Association’s chief executive Chris Cummings said it was “unacceptable” that so few companies had more than one woman on their boards.

Companies must do more than take the tokenistic step of appointing just one woman to their board and consider that job done,” he said.

“There is also compelling evidence that boards with greater gender balance outperform their less diverse peers.”

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Cummings added that these companies must “up their game” and explain how they intend to meet gender diversity targets set out by the Hampton-Alexander review, or “risk investor dissent” at their annual general meetings.

The review has also threatened to brand the firms as “red tops” so as to warn prospective investors about their lack of gender diversity.

The Hampton-Alexander review was commissioned by the government in 2016 with the aim to improve gender balance in the UK’s largest companies. It is chaired by Sir Philip Hampton, who said that while progress has been made in some areas in terms of gender diversity, the fact that so many companies have just one woman on their boards “looks more like tokenism”.

“It also does not reflect the population of very talented women capable of making great contributions in boardrooms,” he added.

Labour MP Rachel Reeves, who is chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Select Committee, said the review illustrates the prevalence of “old-fashioned attitudes” in the workplace.

“The low numbers of women in executive positions can only hinder progress,” she said, “gender pay gaps are highest in sectors with some of the lowest numbers of women executives.

“The time for our biggest companies to remedy the lack of gender diversity is long overdue and they need to set out what actions they are taking to make progress.

“The role of investors is important here too and they need to assert themselves to ensure that diversity is reflected more visibly at board level.”