According to the recently released Hampton-Alexander Review, UBM ranks 11th among FTSE 250 companies for per cent of women at the director level. Forty per cent of the company’s directors are women.
The FTSE 250 includes 101st to the 350th largest companies listed on the London Stock Exchange.
Dame Helen Alexander, UBM’s board chair, is deputy chair of the review. "It took me about five seconds to decide to say yes" to joining the effort, she says. "We have a great opportunity to make a real difference."
In fact, more women are working at senior levels since UK businesses started measuring themselves.
Today, only 11 FTSE 350 boards are all male. In 2011, 152 boards excluded women.
Women now make up 23% of FTSE 350 boards, up from 21.9% last year.
"What gets measured gets managed and what gets managed gets done," Dame Helen says, explaining the improvements. Where government-set quotas generate resistance, business-led, metric-driven, voluntary goals are a different sort of motivator.
Women on Boards
The new goal for FTSE businesses is to have women make up 33% of corporate boards and 33% of the board pipeline - those on the executive committee and their reports. To achieve that goal, the steering committee recommends search firms put as much focus on the female pipeline as on board diversity and suggests investors look for data and consider attitudes to diversity.
UBM already exceeds the 33% goal, but that doesn’t mean the company should rest easy. "I couldn’t be more pleased that Tim [Cobbold] and the executive team support a push for representation," Dame Helen stresses. "UBM already has a remarkably flexible and inclusive culture, relative to others."
Still, at least one company on the FTSE has set its own goal of 50% women in their pipeline, based on anticipated openings. "UBM can and should go further," urges Dame Helen.
Goals for gender diversity don’t benefit women only, she adds. "This is about culture in the company in general, and it’s that culture for men as well as women." Dame Helen recalls returning from maternity leave after her first child and meeting a male colleague at the train station. Whilst she had enjoyed months off work and a flower delivery from her company, her colleague also had a newborn, had no time off and no flowers. Policies such as flexibility and time off for new parents can benefit everyone.
Nor is gender the only diversity issue. The UK has a similar project underway related to ethnicity. "Many of the barriers are similar," Dame Helen feels. "The issues are complex, subtle and compounding, if there was a silver bullet, people would have found it long ago."
Still, ask any group of women - or other minority groups - about their experiences, and their eyes light up, Dame Helen reflects. Any individual story might not seem transformational on its own, but the aggregate is revealing. Dame Helen herself gets animated talking about a legal document she was just asked to sign, which referred to her as "he" throughout, with a small note indicating that "he" refers to "he or she".
"I’m not going to go around pretending I’m a he", the proudly first-female chair of the UBM board protests. "How is it possible to create a document in 2016 that uses that language?"
The moment is indicative of the tricky unconscious slights most women in corporate life face.
One sure thing is that having accurate data helps. UBM now tracks the ratio of women to men at multiple levels in the company and can compare length of careers at UBM, for example, between men and women. Identifying the patterns is a great first step in finding the solutions.
What We Really do at UBM: Give Kids Prosthetics, Tackle Diversity, Launch Careers