FTSE 350 boards hit 40% female representation target ahead of schedule

Women Leaders Review shows progress on gender balance but with work left to do


Michael Nelson

FTSE’s latest annual Women Leaders Review shows a year of steady gains for women in leadership roles at FTSE 350 companies, with representation on FTSE 350 boards increasing beyond the 40% target ahead of the 2025 deadline.

According to the report, progress has been achieved through an entirely voluntary and business-led approach, with the UK workforce exhibiting the “strongest supply ever” of experienced, capable women in business.

However, it also highlights evidence there is room for more progress. Some 115 FTSE 350 companies are still below the 33% by 2020 leadership target, and too few women are represented in CEO, chair and finance director roles, given overall progress.

The scope of the review includes 400 of the biggest public-listed, and private companies in the UK, capturing over 26,000 leadership roles.

“Reaching the 40% women on FTSE 350 boards milestone this time last year, three years ahead of our target, marked the culmination of over a decade of progress. It serves to demonstrate what can be done when we come together in pursuit of an ambition, which at first felt almost unattainable despite being unequivocally the right thing and the best thing for business,” said Penny James and Nimesh Patel, co-chairs of the FTSE Women Leaders Review.

“Now we need to emulate this success for women in senior leadership positions. While the number of women in senior executive decision-making forums has increased, the rate of improvement needs to step up.

“To meet our target of 40%, we will need to see a woman appointed into every other senior leadership position; that means around half of all roles. With the current cadre of talented women, the collective focus on diversity of perspective and greater equity in our Leadership teams, this is not an insurmountable challenge.”

Leadership pipeline

Pavita Cooper, UK chair of the 30% Club, said she now expects to see “greater momentum towards gender balance at the top of organisations”.

“If we are to achieve true representation of women in the most senior of roles, a fundamental change is needed in workplace cultures and systems that allow women to gain the skills required to successfully navigate their way to the C-suite.

“There needs to be a lot more intentionality when building the pipeline of women who can fulfil the CEO role. Getting more women into CEO feeder roles will increase the pool of succession candidates, which, in many cases, is all male.”

According to Cooper, the promotion gap in men’s and women’s careers can be attributed to several factors. For instance, men are often considered ‘natural leaders’, and leadership qualities that are widely praised when displayed by men are known to be judged harshly in their female counterparts.

“As the pyramid narrows at the top of the organisation, women often choose to leave what they perceive to be an environment where the rules are set by men. Women often have to spend longer proving themselves, coupled with societal pressure to be the primary caregiver at home, many women simply leave – further reducing the available pool of female talent,” continued Cooper.

“Organisations need to double down on efforts to accelerate the progression of women through the pipeline. CEOs and chairs need to drive the focus on closing this gap – failing to do so is simply bad for business.”

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