DE&I Mar, 2023

The FTSE Women Leaders gender equality report. A summary.


Unlike this year’s Glastonbury headliners, the representation of women on FTSE 350 boards is now at 40%. A target they were expected to hit in 3 years’ time.

Could we cautiously say that things are improving?

If so, what role does executive search play in achieving gender equality?

This International Women’s Day read my summary of the FTSE Women Leaders gender equality report. 

What is the report?

An independent, voluntary and business-led initiative supported by the Government, FTSE Women Leaders Review are working to increase the representation of women on FTSE 350 Boards and in their Leadership teams. Their Achieving Gender Balance annual report is now in its second year and for the first time includes data from the Top 50 largest private companies so makes for even more interesting reading.

Top performers 
FTSE 100

Let’s cut to the chase, who are the organisations riding high in achieving gender diversity stakes?

Fashion brands are leading the charge with Burberry Group Plc taking top place with 54.1% of their combined executive committee & direct reports being women, closely followed by Next at 52.8%. In 3rd place is J Sainsbury Plc with a very respectable 50.7%.

Poorest performers include Ashtead Group Plc at 15.4% but it’s Fresnillo Plc who sits at the bottom of the list with just 14.3%.


Moving over to FTSE 250 and its real estate company Shaftesbury Plc that has an impressive 63.9% of their leadership roles held by women, followed by Law Debenture Corporation with 63% and another fashion retail brand, ASOS with 56.1%.

The lowest performers percentage figures are woefully low, with Hill & Smith at just 13.6% of women in leadership roles and CMC Markets at just 7.1%.


As previously mentioned, this year was the first time private companies were invited to share their data which made this report even richer with information about the progress being made towards gender balanced boards.

The numbers here are similarly impressive with John Lewis Partnership confirming 63% of their leadership roles are held by women, followed by FGP Topco Ltd at 47% and furniture retailer CDS superstores with 46%.

The report doesn’t name the poorest performers but it does highlight the 6 companies that did not respond to their request for data which include Bestway Group Ltd, John Swire & Sons and New Look Ltd.


But how does the UK compare to the rest of the world?


While the UK comes second to France, this table shows that we have the highest number of companies sharing data. The closest behind us is Australia with a whopping 250 companies less.

The report confirms that the UK’s voluntary business-led approach is not only working, but has created a career track for senior women that a decade ago rarely existed. It has provided a rich data set and deep understanding of gender inequality in business that is beginning to drive widespread cultural change.

Country Number of Cos Quota/Voluntary Total Women on Board   %  
  • France 40 Quota 259 44%
  • UK 350 Voluntary 1203 40.2%
  • Norway 25 Quota 84 39.1%
  • Australia 100 Voluntary 314 38.1%
  • Belgium 20 Quota 89 38%

There is undoubtedly considerable work to do, but the UK is taking action and while progress is slow there’s definitely sparks of light at the end of the tunnel.

Progress so far in summary: 
  • FTSE 350 Women on Boards meets 40% target three years ahead of the deadline
  • New career paths & more opportunities going to senior women than ever before
  • The report has gained deep insights into workplace barriers & how to fix them
  • This progress achieved through entirely voluntary & business-led approach
  • Almost half of FTSE 350 Boards now have a woman Chair or SID
  • Top 50 Private Companies participated for first time having made progress under own steam
  • Modernising of business culture to benefit of men & women

Still more work to do: 
  • Women appointment rate rising, but almost six out of ten available roles in 2022 went to men
  • 125 FTSE 350 companies still below the 33% by 2020 Leadership target
  • 30 FTSE 350 companies still below the 33% by 2020 Board target
  • Levelling opportunities for men regarding parental leave & family responsibilities
  • Too few women in top CEO, and Finance Director roles, given overall progress
  • Many business leaders under-informed on the business case and value of diversity
  • Many companies have been slow to take action, or not playing their part
  • Harder work remains to address behaviours & create inclusive cultures

What role does executive search play in achieving gender equality?

As a seasoned executive recruiter, I was particularly impressed to read about the contribution of the Executive Search community in supporting gender equality on FTSE 350 boards.

Twelve executive search firms listed below, met the The Enhanced Code of Conduct; a performance based accreditation process, focussed on the appointment rate of women and men, and best practice criteria, which recognises those executive search firms doing most to support gender equality on FTSE 350 Boards.

Their achievements include: 

• At least 40% of all FTSE 350 Board appointments going to women.

• At least 4 women have been appointed to FTSE 350 Boards in the 12 month period and there is a proven record of helping women achieve their first board appointment.

The search firms working with smaller FTSE listed companies, large privately owned, Government or Not-for-Profit boards, can also be recognised for their efforts in a separate Beyond FTSE 350 category.

In conclusion

Achieving a target of 40% of leadership roles going to women is exceptional and should be applauded but achieving gender equality isn’t just about hitting targets. The population of the UK is 51% women, so if the focus is to remain on numbers then the next stage should be a target that reflects this.

Also any belief that it’s down to women to smash the glass ceiling is flawed. Change comes from the top, it’s the creators of the glass ceiling that need to be issued with glass hammers, and ladders too.

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