Only eight of UK’s top 100 companies headed by women, report says

Woman director numbers low

Britain’s top-listed businesses have made further progress on gender targets but still have too few women in senior leadership positions, a report has found.

The research, by Cranfield School of Management, found the proportion of women on FTSE 100 boards was at an all-time high, but concluded there still were not enough female chairs, chief executives and chief financial officers.

Just eight of the CEOs in the top 100 UK companies were women. Nevertheless, this was the highest figure for the female FTSE board report since it was first published in 1999.

The report, sponsored by EY and covering the 12 months up to 20 July, found the wider group of FTSE 350 companies had exceeded the voluntary target of 33% women on all boards, set by the Hampton-Alexander review. For the UK’s biggest 100 companies on the FTSE 100 the figure was 38%, while for the medium-sized firms on the 250 next-biggest companies – the FTSE 250 – it was 35%.

On the FTSE 100, the drinks group Diageo was leading, with women occupying 60% of board positions. The online grocer Ocado was lagging the most, with only 17% women on its board.

Just over a fifth (21%) of FTSE 100 boards and 32% of FTSE 250 boards had yet to reach the Hampton-Alexander target of 33% women on their boards. “This highlights the drawback to voluntary targets and prompts whether it is time to make these targets mandatory,” the report said.

Alison Kay, EY’s managing partner for client service in the UK & Ireland, said the report raised the valid question – “the progress in executive roles is actually far more of an important metric than the number of women on boards as a whole”.

The report recommended more companies prioritised succession planning and talent management on their board agenda to improve the appointment of women into executive roles.

The percentage of female non-executive directors on FTSE 100 boards was at an all-time high at 44%, with 14% women chairs, 25% women senior independent directors and 35% women chairing board committees, the report found. However, the proportion of female executive directors had flatlined for a second year at 13.7% for the FTSE 100, and 11.3% for the FTSE 250.

Among the UK’s top 100 listed companies, 31 women hold executive roles in 27 companies. Eight are chief executives, and 15 chief financial officers or finance directors.

The female CEOs are Alison Rose at NatWest Group, Emma Walmsley at the drugmaker GSK, Carolyn McCall at the broadcaster ITV, Alison Brittain at Premier Inn owner Whitbread, Jette Nygaard-Andersen at the sports betting firm Entain, Amanda Blanc at the insurer Aviva, as well as Liv Garfield at the water company Severn Trent and Mondini de Focatiis at the insurer Admiral – the last two companies also have female chairs.