‘Women make up majority of non-executive directors for the first time’ – 2021 UK Board Index

The 2021 UK Board Index highlights some progress in gender diversity for non-executive directors, who now outnumber men, but more work needs to be done at the executive level.

Gender equality - Weight scale with gender signs showing equality - 2021 UK Board Index


For the first time the number of female non-executive directors in leading UK companies exceeds the number of male non-executives, according to the 2021 UK Board Index.

The Index of the largest 150 companies in the FTSE rankings from the executive search and leadership consulting firm Spencer Stuart shows that 36% of all board roles are now occupied by women in comparison to 34% in 2020.

It also found that all six Environmental, Social and corporate Governance Committees are chaired by women and almost two-thirds (65%) of designated non-executive directors are female. However, the percentage of women executives has failed to shift upwards significantly and has fallen in some cases.

Tessa Bamford, who leads Spencer Stuart’s Board & CEO Practice, says: “There is no denying the growth in female representation on Boards in the past decade, but progress is limited to non-executive directors.” 

She adds: “The number of female executives in the boardroom and on executive committees remains very low. There is also a significant lack of female directors in senior board positions.” 

In the UK men still make up 86% of all executive directors and they hold all four senior board positions –  Chair, Senior Independent Director, CEO and CFO – in 64 of the top 150 companies, according to the Index.

Indeed, there has been only a 3% increase in the number of female CEOs in the last 10 years, bringing the number to 12 women, equal to 8% of CEOs. Also, they hold just 9% of all Chair roles, despite female chairs increasing slightly from 8 to 14 in the last years. The total number of women holding a Senior Independent Director position has dropped overall from 34% in 2020 to 26%. 

Bamford says: “Companies must continue to focus their efforts on developing the pipeline of female talent within the executive ranks and to have more women with P&L [Profit & Loss] experience.”

Meanwhile, a new study from Boston Consulting Group shows only five of Europe’s 50 largest banks have female chief executives, while women take up just 19% of executive board positions. The study also found that women are paid less than male colleagues in 80% of companies. Norway’s DNB ranked highest among Europe’s largest banks for balanced representation and equal remuneration, while two UK-based banks, HSBC and Virgin Money, ranked in the top 10.


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