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Nearly 40% of all board roles in the UK’s top listed firms are now held by women, catapulting Britain into second place globally for female boardroom representation, a report has shown.
The government-backed FTSE Women Leaders Review revealed that 39.1% of board positions are held by women within FTSE 100 companies, up from 36.2% in 2020 and 12.5% a decade ago.
This means the UK has now jumped from fifth place last year to second in the international rankings at FTSE 100 level, behind France which has 43.8% of board roles held by women.
Britain has overtaken countries like Norway, which enforces a mandatory quota system on businesses.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “UK businesses have made enormous progress in recent years to ensure that everyone, whatever their background, can succeed on merit and today’s findings highlight this with more women at the top table of Britain’s biggest companies than ever before.”
But the report showed a drop in FTSE 100 executive committee positions held by women, to 25.9% in 2021 from 26.5% in 2020, with only eight female chief executives in blue chip firms and 10 across the FTSE 250.
It also found that only one in three leadership roles are held by women and there are still 72 FTSE 350 firms that have not yet met the previous target for 33% of women in board positions.
Liz Truss, minister for women and equalities, said: “It is excellent to see the progress being made, but we know there is more to be done.”
She said: “We will shortly put forward a range of measures to advance equality for women at work, increasing opportunity, and tackling the issues that are holding women back as we look to ensure that everyone can reach their full potential.”
The report, which follows on from the previous Hampton Alexander Review, has outlined a set of recommendations, on a voluntary basis so far, including to increase the target for female representation on the board to 40% by the end of 2025.
It also wants all FTSE 350 firms to have one woman in the chair or senior independent director role on the board, or one woman in the chief executive or finance director role by the end of 2025.
And the review, which currently tracks the progress on 24,000 board and leadership roles, has revealed plans to extend its scope to the largest 50 firms in the private sector by sales.
The findings of the report were welcomed across the business community, but there were calls for progress on diversity targets to become a reporting requirement and to be extended to smaller listed firms as well.
Alison Owers, global chief executive of Orient Capital, part of Link Group, said: “Institutional investors are using their votes to encourage diversity and inclusivity of women and other minority groups on boards.
“Diversity initiatives need to become a ‘business as usual’ agenda point for company reporting requirements.
“Minimum representation is not enough, and companies need to go beyond the 40% gender target if they are to make significant societal and business change,” she added.