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Achieving gender equity in the boardroom - A fresh look in 2023

Posted on 17 April 2023

In November, we shared the latest statistics on gender diversity in boardrooms in the UK according to reports published at the time and set out the recommendations to improve those statistics to achieve greater gender balance.

The first report from FTSE Women Leaders Review published in February 2022 extended the review of female representation in UK companies to 24,000 of the most senior roles in publicly listed companies – including leadership roles and board roles across the FTSE 350.

The second report from FTSE Women Leaders Review was published in February 2023. This report further extends the review of female representation in UK companies to look at leadership roles and board roles across the FTSE 350 and in the top 50 private companies in the UK.

We take a look below at how the boardroom has changed over the last 12 months.

40% of positions on boards are now held by women

The Women Leaders Review set a target for women to fill 40% of FTSE 350 board roles by December 2025.This target has been achieved three years ahead of the deadline with female representation on boards currently standing at 40.2%. In addition, almost half of FTSE 350 boards now have a female chair or senior independent director.

How does the UK compare internationally?

In November, we considered the need for mandatory targets in reporting gender diversity in the boardroom and across senior management roles. The UK has adopted a voluntary, business-led approach and is widely recognised for its achievements to date.

France remains the leading country in gender diversity in the boardroom, with 44% of roles held by women. The UK sits behind France and just ahead of Norway, which has 39.1% of roles in the boardroom represented by women. Both France and Norway have mandatory quotas – with Norway leading the way and being the first country to introduce a quota of at least 40% women on the boards of listed companies as long ago as 2003.  

The UK's success however suggests that voluntary quotas are enough and leads the way for countries with voluntary quotas, ahead of Australia in second position which currently has 38.1% of boardroom roles represented by women.

In addition, the UK is the most ambitious country with 400 companies in the scope of the review (the FTSE 350 and the top 50 biggest private companies). In comparison, other similarly ranked countries choose only to review 20 to 100 of their leading companies.

The above statistics suggest that mandatory quotas are not necessarily required to achieve gender equity and that businesses are seeing the advantages in diversifying their boards. 

What next?

Achieving the 40% target of women in the boardroom three years early is significant progress. Nevertheless, focus needs to shift to those areas where gender diversity is not as high. For example, 43% of companies in the FTSE 100 still have less than a third of their leadership roles occupied by women (including roles in the executive committee or their direct reports). This number is increasing, with 34.3% of all executive committee or direct report roles in the FTSE 100 as a whole occupied by women in 2022, up from 32.5% the previous year.

Further, there are still 10 companies in the FTSE 350 which have an all-male executive committee in 2023. This is down from 54 companies in 2017, but still remains a disappointing statistic.

The UK now needs to focus on ensuring that women are represented not just in the boardroom but in the four biggest senior management roles: chair, senior independent director, chief executive officer and finance director. The Women Leaders Review report demonstrates that only 21 CEO roles in the FTSE 350 were held by women in 2022. These senior roles now have to be the key area of focus for gender diversity.

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