Women now hold 40.2 per cent of board seats at the UK's 350 largest listed companies, a government-backed report released on Tuesday has found.
The figure surpasses the 40 per cent target set by the business-led FTSE Women Leaders Review for 2025, well ahead of schedule.
Policymakers and investors have been calling for increased boardroom diversity, arguing that it enhances decision-making and corporate culture.
Unlike Belgium and France, the UK does not mandate a quota system for women on boards, making the progress arguably more notable. However, the number of women in leadership roles still falls short of the target, with representation at this level in FTSE 100 and FTSE 350 companies at 34.3% and 33.5%, respectively.
In meeting the woman on boards target ahead of schedule, the UK is in second place globally in terms of increasing the number of women on top public listed boards.
The UK's approach, led by businesses, has yielded positive results, the report said, with companies actively reporting their numbers.
Business and Trade Secretary and Women & Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch said: “I’m pleased to see that FTSE 350 companies have surpassed this target, showing that change doesn’t always require top-down interventions but can occur when everyone is pushing in the same direction.
“This progress is very welcome and I’d urge business to keep up this momentum to achieve better balance in leadership positions, as well as in boardrooms.”
Little more than a decade ago, 152 FTSE 350 boards lacked female representation but now women are present on every board and the most such companies have at least three women serving, the report found.
Minister for Women Maria Caulfield said: “Making sure the right people are in the top roles is not just morally right, it makes good business sense. I’m delighted to see this huge progress, years ahead of when we expected it.
“By working together, industry and government can make sure inequality is a thing of the past — which is good for individuals, for businesses and for our country.”
In the past decade, businesses in the UK have shifted their focus, and some companies, including Greggs, Severn Trent and Vodafone have taken the lead with a higher proportion of women on their boards than men.
In terms of women in leadership positions, J Sainsburys has consistently performed strongly, with several years of significant growth, the report said.
Bina Mehta, chairwoman at KPMG UK, said: “The past year has been full of challenges for business, but these haven’t detracted from their efforts to improve the representation of women in leadership roles. Navigating trickier times has crystallised the business case for greater diversity and inclusion, at publicly listed and private companies alike.
"Now more than ever, businesses require the fresh thinking and different perspectives diversity brings, helping them to solve the complex challenges they face."