Number of FTSE 100 female directors rises by 50% in five years

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The number of female directors at FTSE-100 firms has increased by 50% in the last five years, and women now hold more than a third of roles in the boardrooms of Britain’s top 350 companies, according to the final report of a review into female representation at the top of business.

Although men still dominate the top ranks of business, the government-backed Hampton-Alexander review has achieved its target of 33% of board positions at FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 firms being held by women by the end of 2020.

The review was launched in 2016 with the aim of encouraging UK-listed companies to promote more women to their boards and into senior leadership positions.

On 11 January women held 34.3% of board roles across the FTSE 350, according to data gathered by BoardEx, up from 30.6% in 2019.

The number of women on the boards of those companies has risen from 682 to 1,026 during the five years of the Hampton-Alexander review, named after the two business people appointed to lead the inquiry at the time of its launch – Sir Philip Hampton, a former chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland and GlaxoSmithKline, and the late Dame Helen Alexander, a former chief executive of the Economist.

However, the review has fallen slightly short of its second goal of reaching 33% representation of women in FTSE 350 leadership teams. The proportion of women in those leadership roles – who have places on an executive committee or directly report to the executive committee – reached 29.4%, up from 28.2% a year earlier.

Although Hampton-Alexander targets have always been voluntary, almost two-thirds of FTSE 350 companies have reached the goal of 33% of board positions held by women.

A number of firms have exceeded gender equality targets, including drinks company Diageo, maker of Guinness and Smirnoff, and water company Severn Trent. Both firms have more women represented on their board than men, a first for the leading FTSE 100 index, with 60% female representation at Diageo, and 55.6% at Severn Trent.

Severn Trent is also part of a select group of four companies in the FTSE 350 which have both a female chief executive and chair. Fellow water company Pennon Group, and the insurance firms Admiral Group and Direct Line Insurance Group are also led by two women.

However, there are still 16 companies out of 350 which only have one woman on their board, so-called “one and done” businesses, although this is a vast improvement on the 116 companies which only had one female board member in October 2015.

Sir Philip Hampton, chair of the review, hailed the “excellent progress for women leaders in business” over the last decade, but he warned that businesses need to recruit and promote women to top executive roles “to sustain the changes made”.

There is a “full to overflowing” supply of capable and experienced women, said Denise Wilson, chief executive of the review.

“It is now for business to fully utilise a talent pool of educated, experienced women, to their own benefit and that of the UK economy,” Wilson said.

Despite the progress made during the five years of the review, progress in female representation at the highest levels of British business remains “fragile and slow”, said Ann Cairns, executive vice-chair of Mastercard and global chair of the 30% Club, which campaigns for at least 30% female representation on boards and executive committees.

“There are only 17 female CEOs across all 350 companies,” Cairns said. “Against the backdrop of Covid-19 and its disproportionate impact on women, it’s vitally important for companies to invest in their pipeline of female managers and leaders. Diversity is good for business and it’s key to building back better.”