Since 2011 British business has been on a journey to achieve gender balance through voluntary, business-led action and Government support. Our latest report findings, published in February 2024, show:

  • Women now hold over one-third of all leadership roles in FTSE 350 companies, but businesses are urged to double down on their efforts to reach the 40% target by the end of 2025
  • Just over half (56%) of FTSE 350 companies have achieved or are well on their way to achieving gender balance but others have work to do – almost every other appointment now needs to go to a woman to meet the 40% Women in Leadership target
  • The UK’s private companies continue to keep pace with public listed companies; women hold 36% of leadership roles in the ‘Top 50’
  • With 42% women on FTSE 350 Boards businesses are now reaping the rewards of diverse perspectives, improved governance and greater innovation

What’s more, the UK maintains second place in the international rankings, just behind France and above Norway – testament to the power and impact of the UK’s unique voluntary approach.

Women on Boards

Last year the FTSE 350 achieved 40% Women on Boards three years ahead of the target deadline. Since then British business have made further gains, evidence there is room for more progress still. The appointment rate is creeping towards gender parity (46%), meaning almost as many Board appointments are going to women as men.

FTSEWL 2023 women on boards progress

Just over a decade ago in 2011, 152 of FTSE 350 Boards had no women – thankfully today the All-Male Board is a relic of the past. However three years have now passed since the Hampton-Alexander 33% target deadline, and 29 companies are yet to achieve that target. It appears these companies, while reputable in many other ways, are still struggling to embrace and retain women as leaders on their board. The ‘Top 10 best and poorest performers’ can be found in our latest report.

FTSE 100 Journey to 40%
FTSE 250 Journey to 40%

Women in Leadership

The FTSE 350 continue to make steady progress with women holding 34.5% of leadership roles (defined as the Executive Committee and their Direct Reports). Yet the appointment rate for women in FTSE 250 companies has fallen to just 36%, meaning more than six in every ten available roles in the year went to men. This is difficult to comprehend when there is no shortage of capable women eager and ready to step into leadership roles.

FTSEWL 2023 Leadership Progress

Gender balance at the top of British business is clearly in sight but the job is not yet done – almost every other appointment now needs to go to a woman to meet the 40% target by the end of 2025. Around a quarter of companies are leading the way in already exceeding the target, whilst others now must accelerate their efforts to get across the finishing line.

FTSEWL 2023 FTSE 100 Achieving 40%
FTSEWL 2023 FTSE 100 Achieving 40%

The companies ‘doing very little’ are slowing the pace of change and dragging overall progress down. Leaders of such companies are urged to treat gender balance like any other serious business matter, to commit and take action.

The Four Key Roles

Along with targets to achieve gender balance, progress for women into the very top jobs is another important measure of success. Recommendation 2 requests each FTSE 350 company to appoint a woman into at least one of the four key roles; Chair, Senior Independent Director, CEO and Finance Director. Focus on the UK’s biggest and most influential top jobs will ensure individual businesses and the wider economy can benefit from diverse perspectives and experiences.

FTSEWL 2023 FTSE 100 in the four key roles

It is clear faster progress is needed, with women making up just 15% of Chairs, 8% of CEOs and 18% of Finance Directors. Despite these challenges there is cause for celebration – there are now nearly as many women Senior Independent Directors as men (47%) – a significant rise from just 16% women SIDs six years ago. This indicates a strong pipeline for women progressing to Chair roles in the future. Undoubtedly the stand-out disappointing statistic amongst a sea of progress at every level and in the majority of roles, is the number of women CEOs. This was always going to be the toughest hill to climb but the focus must remain on increasing women’s representation in the broader leadership landscape as this is where our future CEOs, FDs and other influential business leaders will emerge. Every female appointment to a leadership role deserves recognition and celebration.

Top 50 Private Companies

In the second year of reporting on the UK’s Top 50 Private Companies, it is clear many have been actively addressing gender balance for some time as evidenced by their willingness to participate and visible progress. There has been a welcome increase in the representation of women in Leadership, rising two percentage points in the year to 36%, and continuing to keep pace with their public-listed peers. However there remains greater divergence in progress at Board level, with more polarisation. Nearly a third of private companies are performing strongly with 40% or more women on the Board, while just under half are trailing well below 33%, some even down at zero.

FTSEWL 2023 FTSE Top 50 Private Companies

The number of women in the four key roles is encouraging; women make up 20% of CEOs and 24% of CFOs. Undoubtly there is more to do, but the influence of the push for gender balance in public-listed companies, coupled with changing societal and business norms, has clearly played a role in bringing about change. For the full list of Top 50 Private Companies included in scope, click here.