The number of female directors at FTSE-100 firms has risen by 50% in the last five years, with women now holding more than a third of roles in the boardroom of Britain’s top 350 companies.
The figures, which come from the government-backed Hampton-Alexander review, surpass the target of 33% of board positions at FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 firms being held by women by the end of 2020. In mid-January, it was recorded that women held 34.3% of board roles across the FTSE 350.
“In my experience, it was rare to come across a woman in a senior management position”, says Claire Crompton, thought leader of Women in Business and successful director of digital marketing agency, The Audit Lab.
“Before starting my own agency as a busy mum of one (now two!) nearly all management positions were held by men, and the majority of executives were women. It’s interesting to see that men are still typically dominating the board, but it’s looking promising that the movement for women in business is slowly but surely taking place”.
Indeed, the figures show that the target for the number of women in executive board positions has not yet been reached. The Hampton-Alexander Review found that the highest executive roles, such as CEO, are still most likely to be held by men.
However, the report also showed that the number of boards with only one woman has sharply declined from 116 in 2015 to just 16. There are no longer any all-male boards in the FTSE 350.
Hampton-Alexander Review chairman, Sir Philip Hampton said in response to the finding that the focus should now be on appointing women into top leadership roles. He said:
“The progress has been strongest with non-executive positions on boards, but the coming years should see many more women taking top executive roles. That’s what is needed to sustain the changes made.”
Claire agrees that women should be given fair opportunity to reach top positions and believes that, in some businesses, there might be ‘a subconscious bias’ which is preventing some women breaking the glass ceiling.
“I think a big problem is not promoting from within as when you look to outside sources to fill management positions, a subconscious bias can often creep in when CVs land on your desk. The current split within The Audit Lab is 70% women, with five out of seven senior managers also being women.
Times are changing for the better, we should all be given equal opportunities for training and promotion – regardless of gender.
I predict over the next few years, we’ll see a rise of women in management and directorships across the board as this movement continues to take place.”
Gender Inequality Gap Remains
Jenny Knighting, CEO and founder at Nutcracker Agency points out that figures, although a step in the right direction, are still unreflective of the gender split in the UK.
“My overall thoughts are that it is good progress, but we need to keep front of mind that the current gender split in the UK is 51% female and 49% male, so to see current board members stats as 63% male and 33% female shows there is still work to do.
Like anything, the issue with gender inequality is more complex than it looks, and education starts with parents and children as well as the wider demographics and employers”.
In February, MPs in the Women and Equalities Committee claimed that government policies put in place to support those in need during the pandemic had “exacerbated” gender inequality.
The cross-party group of MPs concluded that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) and the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) did not take into consideration existing inequalities. The report said:
“We are concerned that the Government Equalities Office (GEO) did not anticipate how inequalities were likely to be exacerbated by the pandemic and ensure that it influenced the policy response, including in relation to employment, welfare, childcare and pregnancy and maternity.
We have seen little evidence that the government has conducted any robust or meaningful analysis of the gendered impact of its economic policies during the coronavirus crisis.”
Committee chair Caroline Nokes added that the government did not provide an adequate safety net which took into account the caring inequalities faced by women, showing ‘a passive approach to gender inequality’.
Overall, there’s certainly significant progress for women as the number of females appointed to senior leadership roles is on a clear steady, upward trend.
However, as experts warn, employers must actively strive to maintain and increase these numbers in order for women to have equal opportunity in attaining the highest-ranking positions in business.