UK's glass ceiling starts to shatter

The UK has achieved its five-year target of promoting women to a third of board positions on the nation's 350 leading companies.

The latest report from the government-back Hampton-Alexander Review also shows that among FTSE 100 companies, the number of female directors has risen by 50 per cent in five years.
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Launched in 2016, the voluntary targets established by the review were aimed at encouraging the UK's foremost companies to promote more women to their boards over a five-year period and to increase female representation in senior leadership roles.Although the target on board representation has been met - with 34.3 per cent of board roles in FTSE 350 companies being women by last month; up from 30.6 per cent a year earlier - a second goal of having a third of women in leadership roles has fallen slightly short.Female representation in those roles, which represent women having places on an executive committee or who directly report to the executive committee, stood at 29.4 per cent last month, only a slight increase over the previous 12 months.Sir Philip Hampton, chair of the review, hailed the “excellent progress for women leaders in business” over the last decade, but he warned that businesses needed to recruit and promote women to top executive roles to sustain the changes made.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng added: "FTSE companies have made incredible progress in recent years, but we cannot become complacent in building a society where everyone has an opportunity to get on and succeed."The report said that in the future all businesses should be "pushing themselves to move beyond tokenism" and ensure even more women were able to get into businesses' highest ranks.It added: "While women make up more than a third of those in senior leadership positions, the review found that significant progress remains to be made on the highest executive roles, such as CEO."Denise Wilson, the review's chief executive, said: "The lack of women in the boardroom is where it all started a decade ago, and it's the area where we have seen the greatest progress."But now, we need to achieve the same - if not more - gains for women in leadership. It is now for business to fully utilise a talent pool of educated, experienced women, to their own benefit and that of the UK economy."Ann Cairns, executive vice-chair of Mastercard and global head of the 30% Club, which campaigns for at least 30 per cent female representation on boards and executive committees, said that despite the gains of the past five years, progress remained “fragile and slow”.She said: “There are only 17 female CEOs across all 350 companies. Against the backdrop of Covid-19 and its disproportionate impact on women, it’s vitally important for companies to invest in their pipeline of female managers and leaders. Diversity is good for business and it’s key to building back better.”

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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