Number of women on FTSE boards up by 50% in past five years

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More than a third (34.3%) of FTSE 350 board positions are now held by women, with the number of women on boards increasing by 50% over the last five years, data released today shows, representing a dramatic shift in representation at the very highest levels of British business.

The data has been published in the final report from the government-backed Hampton-Alexander Review, which was launched in 2016 to encourage UK-listed companies to appoint more women to their boards and into senior leadership positions.

While men still dominate in the upper ranks of the UK’s top firms, in 5 years the Review has seen remarkable progress among FTSE companies. In total, 220 of the FTSE 350 companies now meet the Hampton-Alexander target of having at least 33% of their board positions held by women – with the figure having quadrupled from just 53 in 2015, and there are no longer any all-male boards in the FTSE 350.

The figures also show an increase in women in wider senior leadership roles, demonstrating that Hampton-Alexander’s top-down approach – with boardrooms setting the standards for women’s representation across the company – is providing pathways to success for women and ultimately supporting British business to strengthen leadership with new ideas and diverse perspectives that come from more women in senior positions.

Data Oct 2015 Jan 2021
Number of women on boards in FTSE 350 682 1,026
Representation of women on boards in FTSE 350 (as a %) 21.9% 34.3%
Number of all-male boards in FTSE 350 15 0
Number of companies with 33%+ women on boards in FTSE 350 53 220
Number of boards with only one woman (One & Done) 116 16
Representation of women in leadership roles in FTSE 350 (as a %) 24.5% (in 2017,
when data collection began)
29.4%

The FTSE 250 reached the Hampton-Alexander Review’s final target of women making up 33% of boards in December 2020, following the FTSE 100 and FTSE 350, which achieved the milestone in February and September 2020 respectively, highlighting the success of the government’s voluntary, business-led approach in addressing the exclusion of women from the top of FTSE companies.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “FTSE companies have made incredible progress in recent years, but we cannot become complacent in building a society where everyone has an opportunity to get on and succeed. As we look to build back better from the pandemic, it’s important businesses keep challenging themselves to use all the talents of our workforce and open up the top ranks for more, highly-accomplished women. The UK government’s voluntary, business-led approach to increasing women’s boardroom representation has been hugely successful and will, I hope, serve as a blueprint for countries across the world looking to make business more reflective of society.”

What else has the Hampton-Alexander Review revealed?

The number of ‘One & Done’ boards – with only one woman – has fallen from 116 in 2015 to just 16. Moving forward, all businesses should be pushing themselves to move beyond tokenism, and ensure even more women are getting into the highest ranks.

FTSE companies have continued to improve women’s membership of boards since Hampton-Alexander figures were last made public in September, despite the impact of coronavirus, which some research suggests has hit women’s employment particularly hard.

While women make up more than a third of those in senior leadership positions, the Review found that significant progress remains to be made on the highest executive roles, such as CEO, and the Review will reflect on these findings in order to chart a way forward.

Hampton-Alexander Review Chair, Sir Philip Hampton said: “There’s been excellent progress for women leaders in business over the last 10 years or more, with boards and shareholders determined to see change. The progress has been strongest with non-executive positions on boards, but the coming years should see many more women taking top executive roles. That’s what is needed to sustain the changes made.”

Hampton-Alexander Review CEO, Denise Wilson said: “The lack of women in the boardroom is where it all started a decade ago, and it’s the area where we have seen the greatest progress. But now, we need to achieve the same – if not more – gains for women in leadership. The supply of capable, experienced women is full-to-over-flowing. It is now for business to fully-utilise a talent pool of educated, experienced women, to their own benefit and that of the UK economy.”

Industry reaction

Mary O’Connor, Acting Senior Partner at KPMG UK, said: “It’s hard to believe that as recently as 2011, 43% of the FTSE 350 still had all-male boards. Thankfully the representation of women on boards and in leadership positions has significantly improved in recent years, with this review having played a critical role in realising that. Achieving the review’s 33% target at boardroom level marks great progress, but it’s vital we have a strong pipeline of female talent rising the ranks. While women now make up nearly a third of wider senior leadership roles, structural and cultural barriers still exist for women, as well as other underrepresented groups. Our collective efforts to truly eradicate those barriers and create an inclusive leadership culture doesn’t stop here, this is where it intensifies.”

Fiona Cannon, Group Sustainable Business Director, Lloyds Banking Group & Hampton-Alexander Review Steering Group, said: “Lloyds Banking Group has been pleased to support the Hampton-Alexander Review over the past five years. The framework of voluntary targets, annual reporting and availability of data has been a real strength of the Review as evidenced by the significant progress across UK business. This is hugely encouraging and I hope that the momentum created will continue at what is a crucial inflexion point for gender equality.”

Amanda Latham, Policy & Strategy Lead at Barnett Waddingham, said: “The lack of diversity in boardrooms goes beyond the FTSE. While the biggest company boards are under pressure to improve, they’re not alone in needing to take more action. In fact, pension schemes are falling behind when it comes to trustee board diversity. Yet they have the same corporate, professional, and personal responsibility to make decisions that will improve outcomes for their members. Inequalities are increasing in the UK, with some groups like working mothers being disproportionately impacted by job insecurity and reduced hours or pay, during or as a result of the pandemic.

“Improving the diversity of trustee boards can help address inequalities, limiting unconscious bias and enabling consideration of different experiences, like caring responsibilities or family structures. But it’s clear that there are significant blind spots when it comes to understanding the relationship between performance and diversity, and equally the benefits in prioritising D&I. If we’re serious about making change on pension boards, we should be following the lead of the corporate sector, setting measurable diversity targets for scheme boards to reach. There’s no time to waste, so simply putting out statements when it comes to diversity is really no longer going to be enough.”

Matthew Fell, CBI Chief UK Policy Director, said: “Reaching 33% female representation in FTSE boardrooms has been a long-held ambition for UK plc. It’s fantastic to see these firms hit such an historic milestone ahead of the Hampton-Alexander target. We must not take this progress for granted or think that the job is now done.

“No part of society has gone untouched by the pandemic. Businesses’ continued commitment to addressing gender imbalance in senior leadership has never been more important.

“Firms must continue to dismantle barriers that prevent women rising to the top – by building fair and inclusive workplaces which bring about lasting change. Now this target has been reached, it’s time to go further on female representation and accelerate progress on racial and ethnic diversity in Britain’s boardrooms.”

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