Boardroom diversity | How many women lead the UK's biggest firms? We're about to find out

How many women lead the UK's biggest firms? We're about to find out

The countdown has commenced for the UK’s largest firms to reveal how many women occupy senior leadership roles at their business.

The FTSE Women Leaders Review Leadership Gender Data Submission Portal has opened for all FTSE 350 companies and, for the first time, 50 of the UK’s largest private companies have been invited to submit their Leadership Gender Data.

Firms including Virgin Atlantic, Deloitte, John Lewis Partnership, Co-op, Matalan and PwC have until November 30th 2022 to submit their results.

Supported by the Government, the FTSE Women Leaders Review is the UK’s independent business-led, framework dedicated to improving the representation of women on boards and leadership teams in FTSE 350 companies which announced in February this year that it would be extending the scope of its remit to include 50 of the UK’s largest private companies.

Capturing data on over 24,000 roles across FTSE 350 Boards extending to two leadership layers below board, the Review is the successor phase of the former Hampton-Alexander and Davies Reviews and has made the UK’s drive for more women in business leadership arguably the biggest and most ambitious of any country to date.

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The UK’s unique approach is widely admired for having achieved progress at scale through voluntary action. From a low starting point in 2011, when just nine per cent of FTSE 350 Board roles were held by women, women’s representation at board level has increased to 37.6% at the beginning of 2022, providing clear evidence this approach is working.

But there remains much work to do and the inclusion of 50 of the UK’s largest private companies will expand the reach of the Review and encourage further progress across British business.

The private companies in scope have been identified on the basis of a range of factors including their size and number of employees. The Review is currently working with these organisations to support the submission of their data and the response to date has been overwhelmingly positive, organisers said.

Business Secretary, Grant Shapps, said it was his mission to “help unlock long-term growth right across the UK.

“Growth requires innovation and diversity of thought which is why businesses should invest in talented individuals from a range of backgrounds, reflecting the society we live in,” said Shapps.

“While there is more work to do, the FTSE Women Leaders Review demonstrates the success of the UK’s voluntary approach in getting more women into the upper rungs of British business.

“I look forward to seeing Britain’s largest private companies coming forward and demonstrating their progress.”

The results will be published in early 2023, the Government said.

The UK’s issue with female leaders (or lack thereof)

According to the ONS, 51% of the population are women. Surely the same should be true within our collective leadership.

Of course, we’re way off this equal share. However, unlike within the Government, some positive change to gender equality does seem to be happening within the business world. McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace 2022 report recently revealed that since 2017, women taking up C-suite roles has increased by around six per cent. Women taking up VP positions has increased by around seven per cent.

The ‘broken rung’

However, it’s not this end of the spectrum in which the pipeline for female representation within leadership seems to be broken. In fact, it’s women entering workplaces, and then becoming managers, that McKinsey calls a ‘broken rung’ in the ladder to leadership.

The research states that, for the eighth consecutive year, this ‘broken rung’ at the first step up to manager is holding women back. For every 100 men who are promoted from entry-level roles to manager positions, only 87 women are promoted, and only 82 women of colour are promoted. As a result, men significantly outnumber women at the manager level, making it all but impossible for women to catch up.

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There are simply too few women in the leadership pipeline to promote to senior leadership positions.

The other central issue which is holding these percentages from rising seem to be that more female leaders are leaving companies, than their male counterparts. Actually, female leaders are leaving their companies at the highest rate ever recorded. To put the scale of the problem in perspective: for every woman at the director level who gets promoted to the next level, two women directors are choosing to leave their company.

So there you have it. By all accounts, there seems to be fundamental breakdowns in the systems that create female leaders. Within the workplace, the key to this pipeline appears to be readdressing the earlier stages, whilst the same can likely be said for our Government, too. Yet it’s discouraging that, even at the highest levels, representation seems to be relegated to a second thought, and nothing more.

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