UK firms hit target for women in top boardroom jobs 3 years early

UK firms hit gender target 3 years early: 40.2% of boardroom jobs at the country’s top listed companies now held by women

A ‘sea change’ is coming to British business after FTSE 350 firms hit a key gender balance target three years early.

The proportion of boardroom jobs held by women at the country’s biggest listed companies increased by nearly 3 percentage points last year to 40.2 per cent, according to the Government-backed FTSE Women Leaders Review.

This meant the 40 per cent target was hit three years ahead of the 2025 deadline. Campaigners hailed it a ‘defining moment’ for British business – but called for even more to be done.

Sea change: The proportion of boardroom jobs held by women at the country’s biggest listed companies increased by nearly 3 percentage points last year to 40.2%

However, there are just nine female chief executives in the FTSE 100 – a number branded ‘frankly appalling’ – and nine companies across the FTSE 350 still have all-male executive committees. These committees are responsible for the day-to-day running of the business.

The nine without any women on their committee are Aston Martin, Savills, Plus 500, Discover IE, CMC, Capricorn Energy, Molten Ventures, BBGI and Bellway.

Ministers said this underlined the need for further progress despite the 40 per cent target being hit.

Kemi Badenoch, the Secretary of State for Business and Trade and Minister for Women and Equalities, said: ‘I’m pleased to see that FTSE 350 companies have surpassed this target, showing that change doesn’t always require top-down interventions but can occur when everyone is pushing in the same direction. 

‘This progress is very welcome and I’d urge business to keep up this momentum to achieve better balance in leadership positions as well as in boardrooms.’

Just over a decade ago, 152 of FTSE 350 companies had no women on their boards at all.

Now there is at least one woman female director at every company in the FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 – which together make up the FTSE 350 – and the vast majority have three or more. 

Firms such as Greggs, Severn Trent and Vodafone have made particular strides in this area, leading the way with more women than men on their boards, the review said.

Burberry, Next and Sainsbury’s are among the companies that have the highest percentage of women in leadership positions, including on their executive committees, who provide support for chief executives and the board.

‘With businesses hitting the 40 per cent target for women on boards well ahead of schedule, it is clear that momentum is on their side and a sea change is coming,’ the report said.

The latest figures put the UK in second place behind France for the best female representation at the top.

At France’s 40 biggest public companies, 44 per cent of boardroom jobs are held by women.

The UK has opted for voluntary action from companies, but France has imposed strict quotas, which force the largest firms to push for equality in the workplace.

Denise Wilson, chief executive of the FTSE Women Leaders Review, told the Mail that although there has been a ‘complete revolution’ in recent years ‘the tone is set at the top’.

She said: ‘We still have a long way to go even though we have made strides in taking this topic of equality beyond just being fringe water cooler conversation.’

There are still only nine chief executives in the FTSE 100, including Emma Walmsley at GSK, Alison Rose at NatWest and Liv Garfield at Severn Trent.

Sue Vinnicombe, professor of women and leadership at Cranfield School of Management, in Bedford, described this number as ‘frankly appalling’, adding: ‘For real change to happen, women simply must be in the significant decision-making roles of chief executive and chair.’

MP Maria Caulfield, the minister for women, said: ‘Making sure the right people are in the top roles is not just morally right, it makes good business sense.’