The proportion of women on the boards of Britain’s largest publicly traded companies has risen above 40% for the first time, according to an analysis suggesting that only 10 of the 350 largest publicly traded companies in the UK still have all-male executive teams.
The number of women on the boards of blue-chip FTSE 100 companies and FTSE 250 mid-market companies rose 3% in 2022, according to the government-backed FTSE Women Leaders Review published on Tuesday.
However, it found that UK companies were not appointing 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, surveyed for the first time this year, the proportion of women in non-board leadership positions was slightly higher, at 34.3%.
The representation of women on the boards of FTSE 350 public companies has been gradually improving in recent years, with shareholder demands for diversity in the people who run British companies.
The government-backed review had set a voluntary target of 40% women on boards by 2025, although that milestone is still well short of the 51% women in the UK population.
Ministers have refused to introduce mandatory targets for women on boards, as the EU has pledged to implement. Kemi Badenoch, the business and commerce secretary who also has the ministerial report on women and equality, said the increase in the number of women on boards through 2022 showed that “change does not always require top-down interventions, but It can happen when everyone is pushing in the same direction.”
Jemima Olchawski, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for gender equality, said: “It’s really good and important that we’re seeing progress on this issue. We shouldn’t think that means the job is done.”
He said he was concerned “to what extent some companies take advantage of the strong performance of others.” He added that the government should push companies to offer flexible work options when posting jobs, as well as encourage more men to take their shared parental leave.
Women only hold around a third of the top 5,200 positions in UK society, according to analysis by the Fawcett Society, and men still dominate the top of British business. Just seven women lead FTSE 100 companies, though the number briefly reached nine in 2022 before one company was demoted from the index and Alison Brittain stepped down as Whitbread boss.
At board level the imbalance has improved. Every one of the 350 boards surveyed now has at least one woman, up from 152 male-only boards just over a decade ago, according to the latest review of women leaders by data firm BoardEx. The UK ranks 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 dropped 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. It said the target is “on track”.
Their official statement highlighted the companies with the highest percentage of women in leadership positions: those on the executive committees of the companies and their direct reports. He said the FTSE 250 companies with the highest representation below board level were property investment trust Shaftesbury, with 64% female leadership, followed by investment fund company Law Debenture Corporation and the fashion retailer Asos with 63% and 56% respectively.
Fashion company Burberry Group had the most women in leadership in 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.