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Women hold 42% of board seats at big UK firms, but just 10 are FTSE 100 bosses



Women occupy more than two in five seats on the boards of the UK’s biggest listed companies but there are still “too few” in top positions with just 10 female FTSE 100 chief executives, according to a report.

The proportion of board positions held by women in the FTSE 350 rose to a record high of 42% this year, according to the government-backed annual FTSE Women Leaders Review. This is up from 24.5% in 2017 when the report was launched.

It said the UK compared well internationally, and was in second place behind France, and ahead of Norway, which both have quotas.

Burberry came top again, with 55.2% female representation on its board, followed by Marks & Spencer (51.3%), Next (50.6%) and National Grid (48.7%).

However, “the standout disappointing statistic among a sea of progress at every level” is the number of female chief executives in the FTSE 350, the report said. In 2011, 15 CEOs were women, and that number has risen to 21 today.

There are only 10 companies led by female chief executives in the FTSE 100, the top 100 listed businesses. They are: Emma Walmsley at GSK, Jennie Daly at Taylor Wimpey, Amanda Blanc at Aviva, Debra Crew at Diageo, Liv Garfield at Severn Trent, Louise Beardmore at United Utilities, Stella David at Entain, Margherita Della Valle at Vodafone and Milena Mondini at Admiral Group. Allison Kirkby has recently taken the helm at BT, while Alison Rose quit as chief executive of NatWest in December.

There was better news on functional roles, in particular FTSE 100 finance directors and chief information officers, which recorded gains, and are being recognised increasingly as stepping stones to the CEO role.

Women on FTSE 350 boards chart

In the FTSE 100, 25% of finance directors were female, up from 23%, and 27% of chief information officers were women, up from 21%. Women make up 30% of executive committees.

Female chairs were appointed at BAE Systems and Barratt last year, Cressida Hogg and Caroline Silver. However, five women chairs retired at the end of their tenure, or for personal reasons.

Nine companies in the FTSE 350 still have all-male executive committees, down from 54 in 2017. They are Aston Martin Lagonda, Savills, Hochschild Mining, Foresight Group, Primary Health Properties, BBGI Global Infrastructure, Bellway, International Distributions Services and Fresnillo.

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Under Financial Conduct Authority rules, women should make up at least 40% of a company board, and at least one of the senior board positions – chair, chief executive, chief financial officer or senior independent director – should be occupied by a woman.

Penny James, the co-chair of the review, said: “While the number of women in senior executive decision-making forums has increased, the rate of improvement needs to step up. To meet our target of 40%, we will need to see a woman appointed into every other senior leadership position; that means around half of all roles.”

Among private companies, John Lewis Partnership led the way with 62% women in leadership, while Ranjit Singh Boparan’s 2 Sisters Food Group, Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s Ineos, Bestway Group and JC Bamford Excavators did not respond.

The business secretary, Kemi Badenoch, said: “FTSE 350 companies have surpassed this [40%] target, showing that change doesn’t always require top-down interventions but can occur when everyone is pushing in the same direction. This progress is very welcome, and I’d urge business to keep up this momentum to achieve better balance in leadership positions as well as in boardrooms.”

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