International Women’s Day: UK improves its female board representation

08 March 2021 2 min. read

The UK has become one of the leading nations for board level gender representation, according to a new study coinciding with International Women’s Day. The report found that the number of female board members is 2% higher than the proportion of women which currently sit in Britain’s Parliament.

Diversity within the boardroom has become an increasingly important issue for businesses globally, both in terms of the business case, in terms of compliance, and, increasingly, in terms of wider social trends towards inclusive practices – with female role models able to encourage other women to participate in the business world.

In recent years, the UK has made strides toward improving the representation of women in the board room – with the FTSE 100 firms announcing before 2020 that they had already met a target to have at least one-third of their boards made up of women.

As British businesses continue to diversify, a new study from Kearney has found that the UK is one of the leading countries in terms of gender representation in the board room. Across the FTSE 100, 36% of board members are women – an improvement from 33% in 2020.

Of the countries included in the study, South Africa and France rank 1 for representation of women in the public and private sector respectively

On top of this, according to the study of nine nations, the UK had an average of 36% female board representation – behind only France, on 43.8%. The UK’s performance on this front means that it is only one of three countries in Kearney’s report to have a larger portion of women in private or public sector boards than in Parliament.

The UK maintains its 34% ranking for the number of female MPs as there hasn’t been a recent election. In contrast, South Africa led the way in its equivalent of Parliament, with 44% of its MPs being women – a huge step up from its 28.5% parity at board level. 

When looking explicitly at private sector board rooms, the UK maintains its heightened performance. According to Kearney, the UK has the highest number of firms with boards containing more than 40% female members. The 29% of firms which said as much were joined by a further 39% who said they had between 31% and 40% women on their boards.

Percentage of femailes on board

Ramyani Basu, Partner at Kearney, commented, “Diversity has regularly been linked to high-performance with a variety of perspectives encouraging fresh ideas and preventing the dreaded group think. As the economy rebuilds from the aftermath of coronavirus, it will be crucial women are fairly represented in both public and private sector roles to help assist in its recovery.”

While the report presents progress on a general level, its release coincides with a specific study into the financial services sector. According to figures from Equileap's Gender Equality Report & Ranking 2020, while women represent 50% of the workforce in global financial companies, only 26% of such firms’ board of directors are women – while that sinks to just 18% on the executive team.