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The proportion of women in board roles in Britain’s biggest listed companies has risen above 40% for the first time, according to analysis that suggests only 10 of the UK’s 350 largest listed companies still have all-male executive teams.
The number of women on boards in the blue-chip FTSE 100 companies and the mid-sized FTSE 250 companies rose by 3% in 2022, according to the government-backed FTSE women leaders review, published on Tuesday.
However, it found UK companies were failing to appoint women to leadership positions below board level at the same rate, with only 33.5% of executive committee or their direct reports being women. In the top 50 private companies, analysed for the first time this year, the proportion of women in non-board leadership roles was slightly higher, at 34.3%.
The representation of women on FTSE 350 public company boards has been gradually improving in recent years, with demands from shareholders for diversity in the people running British businesses.
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% of women in the UK population.
Ministers have declined to introduce mandatory targets for women on boards, as the EU has committed to implement. Kemi Badenoch, the business and trade secretary who also holds the women and equalities ministerial brief, said the increase in the number of women on boards during 2022 showed that “change doesn’t always require top-down interventions but can occur when everyone is pushing in the same direction”.
Jemima Olchawski, the chief executive of the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for gender equality, said: “It’s really good and important that we are seeing progress on this issue. We shouldn’t think that means the job is done.”
She said she had concerns about “the extent to which some firms are free-riding on the strong performance of others”. She added that the government should push companies to offer flexible work options when advertising jobs, as well as encouraging more men to take up their shared parental leave.
Women only hold about a third of the 5,200 top roles across UK society, according to Fawcett Society analysis, and men still dominate the very top of British business. Only seven women lead FTSE 100 companies, although the number briefly hit nine in 2022 before one company was demoted from the index and Alison Brittain stepped down as the boss of Whitbread.
At board level the imbalance has improved. Every one of the 350 boards analysed now has at least one woman on it, compared with 152 male-only boards just over a decade ago, according to the latest women leaders review, carried out by the data company BoardEx. The UK is second in the world, behind France, the government said.
The report found 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 is hoping that the proportion of women in leadership positions will also rise past 40% by 2025. It said that target is “on track”.
Its official release highlighted the companies with the highest percentage of women in leadership roles – those on companies’ executive committees and their direct reports. It said the FTSE 250 companies with the highest representation below board level were the property investment trust Shaftesbury, with 64% of women in leadership, followed by the investment trust company Law Debenture Corporation and the fashion retailer Asos at 63% and 56% respectively.
The fashion company Burberry Group had the most women in leadership of the FTSE 100, at 54%, while the clothing retailer Next and Sainsbury’s supermarket had 53% and 51% respectively. Every other FTSE 100 company had less than 50% women in leadership.