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Progress towards board gender diversity was given hope this week, with the appointment of Amanda Blanc as chief executive officer (CEO) of insurance Group, Aviva plc. This follows Maurice Tulloch‘s departure from the role due to family health reasons, after being re-elected with 99.7% of the votes in his favour at the 2020 AGM less than two months prior (held 26 May 2020). Blanc brings a wealth of experience having previously been CEO, EMEA & Global Banking Partnerships at Zurich Insurance Group and CEO of AXA’s UK and Ireland business.
Aviva saw two male CEO departures within two years, and Blanc has been left to pick up the pieces. Much like Tulloch, she faces ongoing difficulties leading the FTSE 100 company, including shareholder scrutiny of its business strategy. Tulloch was appointed as CEO back in March 2019, when predecessor Mark Wilson was pushed out for not meeting shareholder expectations. Share prices and returns were down, which left Tulloch with the task of revamping the business. Earlier this year, Aviva continued to struggle with the economic hit from Covid-19, having announced in its annual report the intention to ‘withdraw its recommendation to pay the 2019 final dividend to ordinary shareholders in June 2020’.
Whilst Blanc starts her position on the back foot, from a corporate governance perspective she starts on the right foot. Gender diversity is still very much top of the agenda with the Hampton-Alexander review target deadline approaching at the end of 2020. The review suggests that FTSE 350 companies have a 33% female representation on boards, and FTSE 100 companies meet the same percentage for executive committee members and direct reports to the executive committee on a combined basis by this time. Market Tracker reported on this progress when Dominos reverted to an all-male board at their AGM in June 2020. See: Domino’s take away women from board.
Aviva, on the other hand, is bringing light to the end of the tunnel, with the chair expressing he was ‘very pleased that the Board has met its target for women to represent a minimum of 33% of our Board by 2020.’ Not only is Blanc’s appointment a testament to this, but also the non-executive board composition of 4:3 male to female ratio and the Aviva Leadership team of 9:5. The chair also ‘remains a member of the 30% Club, a business-led organisation committed to accelerating progress towards better gender balance at all levels of organisations.’
Babcock International Group plc also came under the spotlight this week when chair, Ruth Cairnie, announced the appointment of David Lockwood as chief executive to drive change at the UK defence contractor. The company’s appointment of Cairnie earlier this year set it apart as a role model for board diversity, particularly in an industry that faces challenges in attracting females. In its annual report, Babcock declared that ‘Currently, the Board’s gender diversity is 33.3% female (4 women out of 12) and we will aim to maintain a good representation of women on the Board.’ Babcock also drew attention to the fact that ‘Like others in the defence, engineering and aviation industry, recruiting female employees with Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) qualifications and experience can be a challenge, because of the relatively low numbers of women who choose careers in STEM. This, coupled with a low staff turnover, affects our ability to improve our gender mix’. Despite this, Babcock’s board composition is made up of one female executive director and three non-executive directors. In the 2019 Market Tracker Trend Report, it was found that whilst gender diversity in the boardroom was improving, less progress had been made in relation to appointment of female executive director roles. See: AGM season 2019—Market Tracker Trend Report.
Market Tracker will be focusing on board diversity in its review of trends in corporate governance later this year.
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