UK executive target for women hit three years ahead of schedule

Women occupy two of five board seats at FTSE 350 companies, reaching the target three years early, according to a government-backed campaign to encourage more female representation in executive roles.

The FTSE’s annual review of women leaders found that 40.2% of the directors of the UK’s largest listed companies were women last year, surpassing the voluntary threshold set for 2025 and up from 9.5% 11 years ago.

The successor to the Hampton-Alexander and Davies Reviews found that nearly one-fifth of FTSE 350 boards have a female chair, even though there were only 21 female chief executives in the major markets listed.

Companies listed in the FTSE 100 with the highest proportion of female board representatives include beverage group Diageo, online car marketplace Auto Trader and water company Severn Trent.

Despite having a female chief executive, drugmaker GSK had the fewest women on its board of any blue-chip company, followed by retailer Frasers Group, investment manager St James’s Place and mining company Antofagasta.

The campaign said the focus for the next three years would be to encourage more women to be appointed to top corporate roles, such as chief executive and chief financial officer.

Denise Wilson, executive director of the FTSE Women Leaders Review, said, “The silent conversation about the lack of women in the past has evolved into an essential and critical business topic.”

She added that female representation in the UK is now second only to France worldwide, where a 40% quota for women has been in place since 2017, which she described as a “significant achievement” for a voluntary scheme.

The review concluded that there was “even more to do” to increase female representation on the FTSE 350 executive committees, which stood at 27% last year. The number of all-male executive committees in the FTSE 350 dropped from 54 to 10 in 2017.

Data covering the UK’s 50 largest private companies has been included in the report for the first time, with the proportion of women on boards averaging around 31%.

The review found higher levels of disagreement, however, with a third reporting that over 40% of directors were women, while over half reported female representation well below average.

Several companies, such as retailer John Lewis, construction company Laing O’Rourke and construction company Nationwide, had high levels of female representation in senior management roles. But 19 companies had boards that were all men or included only one woman.

The report’s authors said making direct comparisons with board-level representation in listed companies is difficult because of the difference in how top management is structured in some private companies.

The proportion of women in FTSE 100 companies below board level – covering gender balance on executive committees and managers who report directly to the executive committee – increased to 34.3%, up from 32.5% in 2021. represented 41% of successful applicants for all available roles last year.

In the FTSE 250, the number of women on leadership teams increased to 33%, up from 30.1% in 2021, with 40% of leadership roles going to women. For the top 50 private companies, the number of executive committee and direct reports was 34.3%.

The analysis found that in the FTSE 350, 1,202 of the 3,000 board seats and 6,660 of the 20,000 leadership positions were held by women.

Of the 50 private companies invited to participate in the survey, six did not provide data, including Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s Ineos, Bamford family business JCB, wholesaler Bestway and retailer New Look.

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