UK female board members up by half in five years, study shows

This year there are 1,026 women on board, up 50 per cent on five years ago

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The number of women on the boards of Britain's top 350 listed companies has jumped by 50 per cent in five years, a government-backed study showed on Wednesday.

There were 1,026 female board members in January, compared with 682 in October 2015, according to a final annual report from the Hampton-Alexander Review.

"There's been excellent progress for women leaders in business over the past 10 years or more, with boards and shareholders determined to see change," report chairman Philip Hampton 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."

The organisation, which promotes higher female representation in the corporate world, said 34.3 per cent of board positions at the identified companies were held by women, compared with 21.9 per cent five years earlier.

It showed also that females occupied 36.2 per cent of board positions at the 100 firms listed on London's top stocks index, up from 32.4 per cent in 2019.

For the first time, two FTSE 100 firms have more women on their board than men – alcoholic drinks giant Diageo and water company Severn Trent.

The British government welcomed the report but said more women still needed to make it into the top ranks.

"As we look to build back better from the pandemic, it's important businesses keep challenging themselves to use all the talents of our workforce and open up the top ranks for more, highly accomplished women," said business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng.

The study comes as Britain's leading companies are also under pressure to address under-representation of ethnic minorities on management boards.

The Investment Association, which represents UK investment managers, said on Wednesday it would highlight FTSE 350 companies that did not disclose the ethnic diversity of their boards, or a credible action plan to achieve targets of having at least one director from an ethnic minority background by 2021.

"The UK's boardrooms need to reflect the diversity of modern-day Britain," said Andrew Ninian, director for stewardship and corporate governance at the association.

"With three-quarters of FTSE 100 companies failing to report the ethnic make-up of their boards in last year's annual general meeting season, investors are now calling on companies to take decisive action."

Mr Ninian said his organisation would also shine a spotlight on companies' failure to address climate change and those that had approved excessive executive pay.

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