The proportion of women in senior management roles at Britain’s biggest listed companies has risen above 40% for the first time, according to an analysis that suggests only 10 of the UK’s 350 largest listed companies still have all-male executive teams.
The number of women on the boards of top FTSE 100 companies and FTSE 250 mid-sized companies increased by 3% in 2022, according to the government-backed FTSE Women Leaders Review published on Tuesday.
However, it found that UK companies were failing to appoint women to leadership roles below board level at the same rate, with only 33.5% of the executive committee or their direct reports being women. In the top 50 private companies, analyzed for the first time this year, the proportion of women in non-board leadership roles was slightly higher, at 34.3%.
Representation of women on the boards of publicly traded companies in the FTSE 350 has gradually improved in recent years, with shareholder demands for diversity in the people who manage British companies.
The government-backed review set a voluntary target of 40% women on boards by 2025, although that milestone is still well short of 51% women in the UK population.
Ministers have refused to introduce binding targets for women on boards, as the EU has pledged to implement. Kemi Badenoch, secretary for business and commerce who also holds the ministerial briefing on women and equality, said the increase in the number of women on boards during 2022 shows that “change does not always require top-down interventions, but can occur when all are pushing in the same direction”.
Jemima Olchawski, executive director of the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for gender equality, said: “It is great and important that we are seeing progress on this issue. We must not think that this means the job is done.”
She said she was concerned about “the extent to which some companies are piggybacking on the strong performance of others”. She added that the government should push companies to offer flexible working options when advertising jobs, as well as encourage more men to take advantage of shared parental leave.
Women occupy only around a third of the top 5,200 positions in British society, according to the Fawcett Society’s analysis, and men still dominate the top of British business. Only seven women lead FTSE 100 companies, although the number briefly reached nine in 2022, before one company was demoted from the index and Alison Brittain stepped down as head of Whitbread.
At the board level, the imbalance has improved. Each of the 350 boards analyzed now has at least one woman, compared with 152 all-male boards just over a decade ago, according to the latest analysis of female leaders, conducted by data firm BoardEx. The UK is second in the world behind France, the government said.
The report found that the number of all-male executive committees in the FTSE 350 has decreased again this year to 10, down from 16 in 2021.
The government expects the proportion of women in leadership positions to also exceed 40% by 2025. He said the target is “on track”.
Its official communiqué highlighted the companies with the highest percentage of women in leadership positions – those who are part of the companies’ executive committees and their direct subordinates. He said the FTSE 250 companies with the most representation below board level were property investment trust Shaftesbury, with 64% women in the lead, followed by investment fund Law Debenture Corporation and fashion retailer Asos with 63%. and 56%, respectively.
Fashion company Burberry Group had the most women at the top of the FTSE 100 at 54%, while clothing retailer Next and supermarket Sainsbury’s had 53% and 51% respectively. All other FTSE 100 companies had less than 50% women in leadership.