UK board representation of women remains low but is improving

19 July 2018 5 min. read

Progress is being made on narrowing the disparity between women and men at the top of businesses, with UK FTSE100 businesses seeing female representation effectively doubled since 2011. However, considerable effort will be required to reach targets of 33% representation by 2020 for the FTSE350 boards and 33% for FTSE100 leadership teams.

Placing more women at the head of a business has both business outcome as well as social value; expanding their role in the wider economy in the process. This has the potential to unlock considerable social and economic value, while allowing women to achieve their full potential in the fields of their interest. Yet centuries of social inertia continue to make the transition to equality in the workplace – as well as at home – slow.

Still, in the UK, the number of women on boards has improved since 2011, when 12.5% of board positions in the FTSE100 were held by women and when there were 152 boards in the FTSE350 with no women. Today the number of women at board level in the FTSE100 as a percentage of the total has increased to around 25%, while the number of boards with no women at all in the FTSE350 has declined to 8.

Movement while positive reflects the magnitude of the task, with representation but one of the areas of concern – others include a wage gap, which amounts to around £6,300 on average, as well as the number of unpaid hours of house and care work well in excess of that of men. One of the major reports into efforts in the industry is the Hampton-Alexander Review report, made with support from KPMG, which includes analysis of 23,000 leaders in 350.

FTSE 100 performance compared

The study compared the performance of major Indices across countries in terms of their relative number of women on the boards of those indices. France and Norway are the top two performers respectively, with 39.8% of board positions filled by women across 578 board positions total. Norway took the number two spot, with 37.2% representation across the 188-board level position for the OBX 25. Sweden – often noted as the best in practice for women – took the number three spot, reporting 34.3% of board level positions in the hands of women.

The UK ranked in seventh spot, at 27.7% on the FTSE 100, just behind Australia on 28.4% and just beating out the Netherlands on 26.8%.

FTSE Women Leaders

The number of women at board level at FTSE 100 companies saw a 1.1% increase on the previous year, while FTSE 250 board level female representation increased by 0.7% to 22.8%. The progress, particularly for the FTSE 250 remains relatively slow, reflecting the difficulty of the task at hand. The firm notes that the Combined Executive Committee and Direct Reports saw only slightly change, up from 25.1% to 25.2%.

The research notes that reporting on the current state has much improved, with companies taking on responsibility to become more transparent around the proportions of women in various roles. Other reporting requirements also came into effect this year, such as those related to the gap in pay between women and men at larger companies.

Top performers

This year’s top performers include Next, whose combined executive Combined Executive Committee and Direct Reports came in at 47%, followed by Marks & Spencer at 43.2%. Morrison’s Supermarkets and EasyJet too saw strong performances, with 43.1% and 41% representation of women in Combined Executive Committee and Direct Reports roles. Burberry Group took the number five position. Overall the top 15 firms on the FTSE 100 have representation in Combined Executive Committee and Direct Reports at 33% or above – reflecting strong impetus in some companies to champion equality.

The top ten companies in need of improvement, in so far as they represent the bottom ten of the FTSE 100 include CRH, at 9.3% - although building and construction will require more run-up time to change with few women in the wider pipeline. Ashstead Group takes the number two spot, with 10%, while Fresnillo takes the number three worst position at 10.7%.

Top ten performers

According to the study a number of efforts will be needed to change the culture and makeup of businesses in the FSTE 350. These include more championship of change by executives – particularly male executives – as well as various recommendations from the report; these include a target of 33% women on FTSE 350 Boards and 33% women in FTSE 100 leadership teams by 2020.

"I have met a vast number of women this year and have been bowled over by their insight and enthusiasm. One thing has become abundantly clear. We need the pipeline of female talent to be full and overflowing." Dame Cilla Snowball Chair Women’s Business Council.