Women hold two in five seats on the boards of FTSE 350 companies, reaching the target three years early, according to a government-backed campaign to encourage more female representation in executive positions.
The FTSE annual Review of Women Leaders found that 40.2% of directors of the UK’s largest listed companies were women last year, exceeding the voluntary threshold set for 2025, and over 9, 5% from 11 years ago.
The successor to Hampton-Alexander and Davies Reviews found that almost a fifth of FTSE 350 boards have a woman as chair, even though there were only 21 female chief executives in the major listed markets.
FTSE 100-listed companies with the highest proportion of female board representatives include drinks 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 major company, followed by retailer Frasers Group, investment manager St James’s Place and mining company Antofagasta.
The campaign said the focus over the next three years would be to encourage more women to be appointed to the biggest corporate roles, such as chief executive and chief financial officer.
Denise Wilson, chief executive of the FTSE Women Leaders Review, said the “quiet, calm conversation about the lack of women of yesteryear has become a central and critical business issue.”
She added that the UK’s female representation is now second only to France globally, where a 40 per cent membership 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 still more to do” to increase female representation on FTSE 350 executive committees, which stood at 27 per cent last year. The number of all-male executive committees on the FTSE 350 dropped from 54 to 10 in 2017.
Data covering the top 50 private UK companies was included in the report for the first time with the proportion of women on boards averaging around 31 per cent.
However, the review found higher levels of divergence, with a third reporting that more than 40 per cent of directors were women, while more than half reporting well below average female representation.
Several companies, such as the retailer John Lewis, the construction company Laing O’Rourke, and the construction company Nationwide, had high levels of female representation in senior management positions. But 19 companies had boards that were all men or included just one female director.
The report’s authors said it was difficult to make direct comparisons with board-level representation at publicly traded companies because of the difference in the way senior management was structured at some private companies.
The proportion of women in FTSE 100 companies below boardroom level, which covers gender balance on executive committees and managers reporting directly to the executive committee, rose to 34.3 per cent, up from 32, 5 percent in 2021. Women made up 41 percent of successful candidates for all available roles last year.
In the FTSE 250, the number of women on leadership teams rose to 33%, up from 30.1% in 2021, and 40% of leadership roles were held by women. For the top 50 private companies, the figure for executive committee and direct reports stood at 34.3 percent.
The review found that in the FTSE 350, 1,202 of 3,000 board positions and 6,660 of 20,000 leadership positions were held by women.
Of the 50 private companies asked to take part in the survey, six did not provide any data, including Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s Ineos, the Bamford family-owned company JCB, wholesaler Bestway and retailer New Look.