UK now second in international rankings for women’s representation on boards at FTSE 100 level, with nearly 40% of positions now held by women, compared with 12.5% 10 years ago.

  • Almost 40% of UK FTSE 100 board positions are now held by women, putting the UK second in international rankings for board representation.
  • FTSE 100, 250 and 350 all improved the number of women in leadership roles in 2021, with government’s voluntary, business-led approach paying dividends.
  • new review sets out bold recommendations to build on this progress, including increasing scope to capture ongoing efforts of 50 largest private companies.

The UK has climbed to second in the international rankings for women’s representation on boards at FTSE 100 level, with new data to be released today (22 February) showing nearly 40% of UK FTSE 100 board positions are now held by women, compared with 12.5% just 10 years ago.

The data has been published in a new report by the government-backed FTSE Women Leaders Review, which monitors women’s representation in 24,000 positions on FTSE 350 Boards and in leadership teams of the UK’s biggest companies, building on the success of the previous Hampton-Alexander and Davies Reviews.

Today’s findings demonstrate a major sea-change in attitudes to getting women leaders to the top table of business in the UK, with women’s board representation increasing in 2021 across the FTSE 100 (39.1%), FTSE 250 (36.8%) and FTSE 350 (37.6%).

The report highlights the success of the UK government’s voluntary, business-led approach to setting targets for getting more women on boards, as the UK progressed from fifth to second in the international rankings at FTSE 100 level, leapfrogging countries such as 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.

However, we should not rest on our laurels, and the FTSE Women Leaders Review will build on the success so far of our voluntary, business-led approach to increasing women’s representation on boards and in leadership, without the need for mandatory quotas.

The number of women in Chair roles across the FTSE 350 rose to 48, up from 39 in 2020, and there has been a significant decrease in the number of ‘One & Done’ boards to just 6 this year, as British businesses take action to diversify their boardrooms.

UK businesses have also continued to drive progress in their leadership teams in 2021, despite challenges faced in responding to COVID-19. There are over 700 more women in Leadership roles in the FTSE 350 companies this year, increasing women’s representation to 31.5%, an increase of 2% year-on-year.

While there has been remarkable progress at boardroom level, the report also shines a light on areas where there is still more to do. For example, only 1 in 3 leadership roles and around 25% of all executive committee roles are held by women and there are very few women in the CEO role. Equally, there are still many companies yet to hit the former 33% target set by the Hampton Alexander Review.

Minister for Women and Equalities, Liz Truss, said:

It is excellent to see the progress being made, but we know there is more to be done.

This government is committed to levelling up all parts of our country, working to tackle inequality and promoting equality of opportunity, including at senior level, so everyone can thrive.

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.

To ensure British companies continue to raise their game and open up opportunities to everyone, today’s FTSE Women Leaders Review report has set out bold new recommendations, including:

  • the voluntary target for FTSE 350 Boards and for leadership teams is increased to a minimum of 40% women’s representation by the end of 2025
  • FTSE 350 companies to have at least one woman in the Chair, Senior Independent Director role on the Board and/or one woman in the Chief Executive Officer or Finance Director role by the end of 2025
  • extending the scope of the FTSE Women Leaders Review beyond FTSE 350 companies to include the largest 50 private companies in the UK by sales

These recommendations aim to increase gender balance further, bringing new focus to the appointment of women at the highest levels of British business, particularly in those companies that are still lagging behind.

Denise Wilson, Chief Executive, FTSE Women Leaders Review said:

Today the FTSE Women Leaders Review announces four new recommendations for this next stage, which will embed the progress and hard-won gains of the last decade and take business further on the journey to gender balance in the boardroom and in leadership.

We know there is much more work to do and no shortage of experienced, capable women, ambitious for themselves and their company across all sectors of business today. So while we continue to build on progress for women on boards, we need to firmly shift focus in this next phase to women in leadership roles at the top of the organisation.

The government is also announcing today that KPMG and Lloyds Banking Group will be the corporate sponsors for FTSE Women Leaders Review in this next phase, providing important support to increase the number of women at the top of British business.

Bina Mehta, Chair of KPMG in the UK, said:

While the representation of women in leadership roles has continued to improve, the need to maintain momentum and continually challenge remains. Forty is the new 30 when it comes to women’s representation targets on boards and in senior leadership roles. But beyond the numbers, it’s just as important to ensure that the overflowing pipeline of well-qualified and capable women translates into more women Chairs, SIDs, CEOs and CFOs. I’m delighted KPMG UK is co-sponsoring the FTSE Women Leaders Review, helping to make truly inclusive leadership cultures a reality for all businesses.

Fiona Cannon, Group Sustainable Business Director, Lloyds Banking Group, said:

Lloyds Banking Group is pleased to co-sponsor the FTSE Women Leaders Review. We firmly believe that gender equality provides a real competitive advantage and companies with diverse leadership teams see increased performance and make better decisions. We welcome the new target to achieve a minimum of 40% women on Boards and in leadership teams and are particularly pleased that there will be a strong focus in the Review on increasing the number of women in leadership positions. There is no shortage of talented women; we need to ensure the opportunities are there for them to succeed.

The government will appoint new Chairs to the FTSE Women Leaders Review shortly, to lead this next phase over its 4-year span.

International table

Over the years the FTSE Women Leaders Review (formerly the Hampton Alexander and Davies Reviews) has tracked its progress in increasing the representation of women on boards of public listed companies against other countries internationally.

See the February 2022 FTSE Women Leaders Review.

In 2021 the UK FTSE 100 ranks in second place compared against 11 similar counties, up from fifth place last year when compared with 12 similar countries.

CountryIndex% of board positions held by women 2021
1FranceCAC43.80%
2United KingdomFTSE 10039.10%
3NorwayOBX38.20%
4SwedenOMX Stockholm36.90%
5NetherlandsAEX35.30%
6AustraliaS&P ASX35.10%
7FinlandOMX Helsinki35.10%
8BelgiumBEL Institutional34.30%
9SpainIBEX34.00%
10CanadaS&P TSX33.70%
11CaliforniaS&P32.30%
12GermanyDAX30.50%

Source: BoardEx and other public and/or statutory sources as of 10 January 2022.

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