Progress and plateaus in boardroom diversity

On 27 February 2024, the FTSE Women Leaders Review published their latest report on the representation of women on the boards and leadership teams of the UK’s largest companies. A positive overall picture is marred by little change to the number of female CEOs.

Women on boards – target achieved

The 2024 FTSE Women Leaders Review is, on the face of it, a good news story.  The voluntary, government-supported initiative reported that the representation of women on FTSE 350 boards has already exceeded the 40% target with nearly two years left to go. All boards have at least one woman, and 50% have four or more women.

A decade ago, the picture was starkly different. A staggering 152 FTSE 350 boards lacked even a single female voice, whilst the remainder had just one (or occasionally two) women.  

This places the UK second place internationally (behind only France which imposes quotas) for progress in women’s representation on boards.

Female CEOs - the “last hill to conquer” 

Concealed amidst this “sea of progress”, however, is the number of women who actually make it to the top role. This is a familiar theme from previous years. There are just 21 women CEOs in the FTSE 350 today – a stubborn improvement from 15 in 2011 (i.e. a less than 2% increase). 

Describing the finding as “disappointing” but “not surprising”, the report flags several contributing factors, including:

  • There being a shorter than average tenure in the role of CEO for women (5.7 years versus 6.7 for men);
  • Bias in the selection process; and
  • Over 90% of CEOs still coming via ‘traditional’ career routes (where prior experience in roles such as CEO, Finance Director, COO, Divisional Heads, or founder/owner serves as a stepping stone into the top position. These roles are less likely to be occupied by women in the first place making the path to CEO even more difficult).

And whilst the Review is optimistic that faster progress may be on its way, it is clear that genuine change is still needed at the very top of British business. 

Gender equality at work: the bigger picture 

Whilst the Review captures only 400 of the biggest companies, its takeaways are relevant to all businesses. The case for gender-balanced leadership teams is now well-rehearsed – greater diversity equals greater company performance. But how can businesses continue to fuel progress and create lasting, sustainable change? 

One suggestion in the Review is to challenge traditional parenting roles in the workplace. Parenting ‘out-loud’, family-friendly and flexible working practices, parents networking groups and showcasing ‘Dad’ activity can all contribute to breaking down these barriers. 

However, the challenges women face don’t end with motherhood. Research suggests that some women have felt forced to leave work altogether due to the menopause.1  The significance of this should not be overlooked in the context of women’s progression into more senior roles. Fostering a culture where staff feel able to ask for support can help more senior women to remain in the workforce, progress into leadership roles and reduce the gender pay gap.2 

The end game 

While the strides made towards a more diverse boardroom are to be applauded, it remains difficult to reconcile with the shortfall of women in the biggest and highest paid role of CEO.

With just under two years left to go, women need to be appointed to around half of all senior leadership positions before the end of 2025 to achieve the Review’s 40% women in leadership target. Considering the pace of change required, this may be a challenge, despite the strong pipeline of talented women in business. Many companies are now at a critical juncture where they must consider how they can modernise their style of leadership to foster greater diversity and a culture where everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed.


1  The Fawcett Society, Menopause and the Workplace (April 2022)

2  You can find out more about supporting menopausal employees in our guide here.