Newly appointed female CEOs doubles YoY but only 8% of UK CEOs are women

Heidrick & Struggles, the global provider of executive search and leadership advisory services, recently published their eighth annual ‘Route to the Topsurvey, which draws on an analysis of the profiles of 1,095 CEOs at the largest publicly listed companies across 24 markets including Australia, Brazil, China, Germany, Italy, Mexico, UAE, UK and the US.

According to the survey, only 8% of UK CEOs are women, however the share of newly appointed women CEOs more than doubled to 13% around the world over the first half of this year, compared to the last 6 months of 2020 (6%). Although the absolute number of female leaders remains low, the trend suggests a move towards more progressive and inclusive policies inside the world’s top companies.

Speaking about the Route to the Top 2021 findings, Sharon Sands, partner in Heidrick & Struggles’ London office and co-lead of the CEO & Board of Directors Practice said: “In the UK, the percentage of CEOs with cross-industry experience has risen to 34% in 2021 from 13%, as was found in the 2020 report. This shows that the skill set required is not-necessarily industry specific and can be transferred as required.

“Companies are also increasingly looking internally to fill available C-suite roles. At Heidrick & Struggles, we are strong believers in succession planning and the importance of developing a pipeline of diverse talent working their way up through the ranks.”

Record number of CEO appointments 

The findings also reveal a record number of new CEO appointments were made in the first six months of 2021, outstripping the next highest half-year number of appointments since 2018 by 23%.

After a period of increased external appointments last year, the report has identified a clear shift towards internal promotions for the top job vs. external hires up 62% vs. 53% year on year.

Kit Bingham, partner in Heidrick & Struggles’ London office and head of the UK Board Practice, commented on the findings saying: “New CEOs appointed over the past year in the UK differ significantly from CEOs they have replaced. The new breed of CEOs are more likely than their predecessors to be women, to be non-nationals, to have cross-border experience and to have advanced degrees.

“While the absolute number of women CEOs both in the UK and around the world remains far too low, the findings suggest progress has been made and a positive trend towards more progressive and inclusive appointments.”

CEOs They-Are-A-Changin’

Compared to their direct predecessors, new CEOs are more likely to be women (13% up from 6% last year), to be non-nationals (30%), to have cross-border experience, while 35% of CEOs have an MBA, up from just 20% previously.

While only 8% of UK CEOs are women, this is a 3% increase on last year and 2% more than both the European and global average (6%). At 14%, Ireland leads the world with the highest number of female leaders atop of the corporate ladder.

A timely appointment 

At 5.9 years, the average tenure of a UK CEO is less than European (6.7 years) and global (6.6 years) counterparts, while the average age of appointment is consistent across the world at 49 years old.

However, when it comes to age only 17% of UK CEOs are appointed before their 45th birthday, a lower number than European & global colleagues in which 25% of appointments were shown to be before the age of 45.

Another clear area of difference between UK & European / global boards is the appetite to appoint non-national leaders. Nearly half of UK CEOs are from overseas – whereas on the continent and around the world it’s only 27% and 24% respectively.