Women now occupy two in five board roles at Britain’s biggest listed companies, but progress on female CEOs remains slow, a new report shows.
Women now occupy over 40% of the board roles at Britain’s biggest listed companies, thus hitting a diversity target three years ahead of schedule, according to an annual review, although the number of women executives is still lagging behind despite improvements.
The FTSE Women Leaders Review, published on Tuesday and supported by the Government, found that 40.2% of directors at FTSE 350 companies are now women. The FTSE Women Leaders project, a voluntary initiative for businesses, had set a target of hitting 40% board representation by December 2025.
However, the report noted that there was still “more to do” regarding the proportion of women on executive committees, which stood at 27% amongst FTSE 350 companies in 2022. The FTSE 100, however, has made progress at Executive Committee level with representation of women in the Combined Executive Committee & Direct Reports increasing to 34.3%, up from 32.5% last year. In the FTSE 250, that number has also increased, up from 30% to 33%.
An executive committee is a smaller subset of board leaders, which serves as the top tier of management and which can make urgent decisions between board meetings. Progress on getting more women into executive director positions has been slow with many companies boosting their numbers through non-executive directors.
Some of the UK’s best-known companies have made headlines in recent weeks after appointing female-majority or all-female top three positions.
Marks & Spencer is to have a female-majority board for the first time from next month, after hiring Cheryl Potter as a non-executive director. Potter, who spent 20 years at the global private equity firm Permira, will tip the balance on M&S’ board to 55% female when she starts her new role on 1 March.
Earlier this month, water company Severn Trent became the first FTSE 100 company to appoint women to its three top positions: chair, chief executive, and chief financial officer. The all-female line-up will formally take effect on 1 April.
The FTSE Women Leaders Review noted that “progress remains stubbornly slow” on getting more women into the top job of CEO, with only marginal gains across FTSE 350 firms in recent years. Separate research published last October found that 96% of CEOs at FTSE 350 companies are men.
However, the FTSE Women Leaders report also pointed to the rising proportion of female financial directors (19%) and chief information officers (16%) at these companies, which will hopefully place more women on the career path to the top job in the coming years. It also found that only 10 of the FTSE 350 firms still had all-male executive committees, down from 54 in 2017.
“The pipeline of competent women eager to take on the top job has never been stronger…this has yet to feed through substantially into women CEO appointments, but it will in years to come,” the report said.