… discontent? Perhaps, but the recent FT-ICSA Boardroom Bellwether Winter 2017 survey of FTSE 350 companies saw some early signs of improvement – at least economically.

As regards the business environment, 27% of directors anticipated an improvement in global economic conditions and 36% predicted no change.

Although no statistics on international growth were published in the Summer 2017 survey, prospects were viewed pessimistically by board members. However, in the Summer survey the growth position for the UK was described as particularly bleak: only 5% of respondents predicted an improvement in economic conditions, 69% of directors predicted a decline, and 19% no change. The prognosis for the UK looked a little better in the Winter survey: 8% expected improvement and 28% anticipated no change. Concerning capital investment, a sure barometer of business confidence, 41% of respondents predicted an increase.

Not surprisingly, the pre-Brexit survey reported a much rosier picture, but the current attitude is that leaving the EU will cause some or significant damage to their business and none of those who answered the survey believe that it will be positive. However, only one company was considering a significant business move from the UK to the EU, but the survey did not identify that company. If it wasn’t Unilever, then there should have been two. 43% of directors indicated that Brexit is one of the principal risks being faced by their organisations.

On the subject of risk, 80% of respondents saw cyber risk remaining a rising threat to companies, but 56% of directors perceived both legal and political risk to be rising too. Following the release of the Paradise Papers, 97% of respondents reported that their board had discussed reputational or other risks around tax practices.

Other areas examined in the survey include executive pay, the gender pay gap, boardroom diversity and sexual harassment. There are some interesting, and in some cases surprising, statistics on these areas in the survey:

  • 68% of remuneration committees changed their pay policy after investor feedback.
  • 93% confirmed that their remuneration committees consider pay structures and incentives across the wider workforce and two-thirds take the pay ratio between the CEO and average employee into consideration.
  • 55% of remuneration committees do not consider gender pay gaps when discussing executive pay.
  • 72% of those preparing for gender pay gap reporting do not see larger legal risks.
  • 68% of organisations have considered reviews of boardroom diversity in FTSE 350 companies but 49% of these have not changed their board recruitment practices.
  • 39% consider their board to be educationally diverse.
  • Only 52% of boards are satisfied with their policies on sexual harassment and 33% of company secretaries did not know what boards thought of sexual harassment policies.

Although such surveys give only a snapshot of attitudes at a particular time and economic predictions can be unreliable (and there may be an element of self-reinforcement here), remuneration policies show some encouraging signs, if only because of a government Green Paper on corporate governance, but we can only hope that the Summer 2018 survey reports progress on the gender pay gap, boardroom diversity and sexual harassment areas.

Author: Robert Hartnett (Senior Teaching Fellow)