Since the Lord Davies review, which concluded in 2015, the proportion of women on FTSE 100 boards has doubled to 26.1%, but women still only occupy 9.7% of executive director roles. With so few visible role models for today’s female talent, it’s perhaps little wonder that women in the UK are being encouraged to leave work 18% early tomorrow (much like women in Iceland did last month), in recognition of the fact that the average woman in the UK is still paid 18.1% less than the average man.

The CIPD has long called for efforts to improve workplace diversity to focus on executive roles as well as the non-executive, and so we’ve welcomed the recommendations made by Sir Philip Hampton and Dame Helen Alexander today as a positive step forward.

Laura Harrison, people and strategy director for the CIPD, said:

'The new voluntary target for 33% of FTSE 100 executive pipeline positions to be held by women is a welcome step forward. This raises crucial issues about how employers can build strong and sustainable frameworks to encourage good female representation across organisations. However, for more women to hold senior roles, businesses need to build clearer pathways to help them progress, starting from the bottom up.

'Building a senior female executive talent pipeline will not happen without nurturing and progressing female talent at every level of the organisation. We need organisations to be thinking about progression opportunities at every stage of women's careers. Less than half of organisations currently monitor gender diversity at all levels. To make real progress, companies need to monitor and understand how women are being recruited, developed and promoted, how many are leaving and from what roles and functions as well as how many women are returning from maternity leave. Only then can they put in place a meaningful and inclusive talent strategy to progress women.

'The introduction of a target for the female executive pipeline makes it even more relevant to extend this approach to executive posts in the boardroom itself. Executive female representation in FTSE 100 boardrooms still stands at less than 10%, underlining the clear need for a separate target for female executives in FTSE 100 boards and the wider FTSE 350. It is the influence of female role models in executive positions that has the potential to create the greatest sea change in organisational culture and practices in relation to gender diversity. We need to see much bolder action at all levels of every business. Only then will organisations be able to benefit from the capability and potential of all of the workforce.'

But targets alone, whether voluntary or compulsory, are unlikely to bring about the much needed change in organisational cultures and practices. If we don’t take practical action now to ensure that women have equal opportunities to take on the kinds of roles and responsibilities that command higher wages, it’s hard to see how we’ll ever see the gender split on boards reflect that of society, or how we’ll close the pay gap.

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At the CIPD, we champion better work and working lives. We help organisations to thrive by focusing on their people, supporting economies and society for the future. We lead debate as the voice for everyone wanting a better world of work.