FTSE Women Leaders Review 2024

Mary Walsh, FTSE Women Leaders Review

The FTSE Women Leaders Review is the UK’s voluntary, business-led and government- supported initiative focused on increasing women’s representation on the boards and leadership teams of the FTSE 350 and the UK’s 50 biggest private companies. The scope of the Review captures the data of over 26,000 leadership roles, reporting every year on progress for women serving on boards and for women in the two senior management levels below the board.

Over the last decade we have seen near-revolutionary change in the culture and dialogue at the top of British business with diversity in leadership now viewed as a business imperative that is key to long-term success. This transformation is all the more impressive as it has been delivered through the voluntary action of business with the support of government and without quotas that have been driver of change in many other countries. The UK’s approach is unique and arguably the most ambitious in scale of any country working hard to achieve gender equality in business.

Continuing progress

Back in 2021 we set out clear goals: to achieve 40% representation of women on FTSE 350 boards and leadership teams by the end of 2025 with a minimum of one of the four key decision-making roles − chair, CEO, senior independent director (SID) and financial director (FD) − to be held by a woman. At the end of the third year of our five-year term, we were delighted to report another year of progress in 2023 with leaders once again demonstrating their continued focus on achieving greater gender balance.

Women on boards

Last year marked a pivotal milestone as we reached 40% women on FTSE 350 boards, three years ahead of deadline. This was testament to what can be achieved when we come together in pursuit of a clear ambition while holding each other to account. Building on that success, the number of women on boards has risen to an all-time high of 42% with every indication that there are more gains to come.

Women in leadership

While the representation of women on boards is to be celebrated, we now need to emulate this success in senior leadership positions. Over half of FTSE 350 companies have met or are on their way to reaching the goal of 40% women in leadership but others need to pick up the pace. Gender balance is clearly in sight but the job is far from done.

Women in leadership across the FTSE 350 now stands at 35%, with six out of every ten vacancies still being awarded to a man. Despite having the strongest ever supply of experienced, capable women ambitious for themselves and their organisations, the appointment rate is still skewed in favour of men. To fuel further, faster progress we will need to see a woman appointed into every other senior leadership position. This is wholly achievable but it will take commitment and determination over the next two years.

Women in the four key roles

Further positive progress was reported in the drive to have at least one of the four key decision-making roles held by a woman by 2025. As women’s representation on FTSE 350 boards goes from strength to strength, the number of women in the SID role, which plays an important part in board governance, has increased significantly from 37% to 47% year-on-year.

Although there were several new appointments in the year, progress in the chair and CEO role across the FTSE 350 has remained largely flat, with marginal gains offset by losses elsewhere. There are, however, encouraging indicators of progress to come with the number of women on FTSE 100 executive committees reaching 30% and a welcome uplift to around a quarter of all FTSE 100 finance director and chief information officer roles now being held by women − roles that are increasingly recognised as career routes to CEO.

International comparisons

The transformation of British boardrooms that is well underway is borne out in the international rankings where the UK ranks second only to quota-led France and ahead of Norway, cementing its reputation as a world leader for women on boards. With 350 public-listed companies and almost 3,000 board seats in scope, the UK out-runs most of its international counterparts in scale and ambition with progress achieved through entirely voluntary action and commitment from business.

There is no doubt that diversity in leadership has become a core and critical business agenda item. The learnings and rich data set grow each year as does the effort and ambition of companies working together to achieve gender balance. Among an ever-increasing list of competing priorities, we continue to work together to embrace inclusion and diversity at the top of business as a key lever for future success.

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