‘Women stuck in functional roles that bar progression to the top’

The Pipeline’s annual report finds women tend not to be in the kind of roles that secure  progression to the top of their organisation.

Women on Boards


Only a fifth of commercial roles on FTSE350 executive committees are occupied by women, according to a new report by gender consultancy The Pipeline.

Its annual report, Women Count, finds that rather than securing pivotal executive roles like CEOs or those with Profit and Loss responsibilities, women predominantly find themselves in ‘functional’ roles such as HR or Marketing. This limits their progression to crucial leadership positions, says the report.

Moreover, while female representation on FTSE350 boards has exceeded 30%, only 13% of FTSE100 companies have a female CEO, just 9% of FTSE350 companies boast a female CEO, up from 4% in 2019 and, despite comprising nearly half of qualified accountants, only 18% of FTSE350 companies have a female Chief Financial Officer. There are also significant variation across sectors, with transport, health and insurance having over 40% female representation on executive committees, while IT, automobile, mining and private equity have a female representation of below 20%.

For the first time, the report includes insights from over 200 executive women. 47% identify workplace environment and culture-related issues as the primary obstacle to their leadership development. 44% believe their organisations aren’t prioritising enough support for women to achieve career progression and 48% highlight flexibility and career advancement support as pivotal to empowering women.

The report states: “Change is happening, although at a glacial pace. While we are still some distance away from achieving gender parity in the very top job – despite a recent increase in women CEOs, following a year-on-year decline in 2022 – there is a positive trend. Furthermore, the number of women in Executive Leadership roles within the FTSE 350 is currently experiencing the fastest growth rate in the past five years. In fact, it has surpassed the significant 30% threshold for the first time.

“The less favourable news is that the growth in the number of women at the Executive Committee level is not being driven by more women securing commercial leadership positions, but rather by an increase in women take on functional roles.”

It calls on employers to invest in personal and career development, encourage sponsorship and mentoring, challenge key decision-making processes so they are not based on assumptions and measure and report on gender parity at every level of management in the organisation on the basis that what is measured is more likely to be considered important and to prompt action.

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