FTSE Women Leaders Review – cause for (cautious) celebration

“Reaching the 40% target for women on boards early is cause for celebration. It also shows that more progress is possible.”

The second report from the FTSE Women Leaders Review was published on 28 February 2023. The headline results were encouraging – the FTSE 350 has met its target for women on boards three years early and is second only to France in terms of women’s representation on boards internationally. This is no mean feat given the UK’s voluntary business-led approach. But it is important not to lose sight of the areas where more work is needed. 

The FTSE Women Leaders Review

The FTSE Women Leaders Review is the successor to the Hampton-Alexander and Davies Reviews. Now boasting more ambitious targets than ever before - a minimum of 40% representation of women on FTSE 350 Boards and leadership teams by the end of 2025 - the Review captures data on a voluntary basis from some of the largest companies. As of this year, the Review now reaches across the FTSE and beyond to the 50 largest private companies in the UK by sales. 

The new 40% target is reflective of a wider international drive to improve women leadership in senior roles, including in the EU (see our summary of the Women on Boards Directive here).

Cause for celebration…

A decade ago, a target of 40% for women on boards may have seemed unattainable. Now, female representation stands at 40.2% on boards of FTSE 350 companies - an all-time high and up from just 9.5% in 2011. For the third year running, there were no all-male boards, and there was only one company with only one woman on the board.

It’s also encouraging to see the largest private companies participating, recognising that diversity expectations in the leadership of businesses extends beyond public companies. 44 out of the 50 in-scope private companies responded, with the report noting their enthusiasm and diligence in doing so. 

Across those private companies, women’s representation in leadership roles (which captures two layers of senior management below the board) stood at 34.3%, slightly above that for the FTSE 350, so it is reassuring to see that progress has been made under their own steam. 

… but some familiar themes to previous years;

Despite solid progress overall in women’s representation, there is one key area which remains a challenge – getting women into the top decision-making roles. 

There are still 10 all-male executive committees in the FTSE 350. And with only 9 female CEOs in the FTSE 100 (up from 8 the previous year) and 21 in the FTSE 350 (up from 18), it seems diversity efforts have not yet translated into greater representation in the upper ranks. Only marginal increases have been seen in representation in FTSE 350 executive committees which is at 27% (up from 25% the previous year), but that is still significantly out of line with the overall figures on board representation.

With almost six out of ten available roles in 2022 going to men, we are still far from true equality.  

No room for complacency

Although the direction of travel is undoubtedly positive, the statistics disguise wide divergences in performance. Nearly 10% of FTSE 250 boards companies have still not met the 2020 target of 33% women and over a third of FTSE 350 companies are below the 33% by 2020 leadership target.  

Concluding thoughts

Although it is encouraging to see a key target met three years early, it is important that companies don’t lose momentum and continue to focus on growing and retaining their female leaders. Many businesses are now turning their efforts to succession planning in order to build a more diverse pipeline of talent for the future, the fruits of which will hopefully be seen in reports to come.