Businesswoman using laptop at conference table

A new review based on women in senior leadership has been unveiled by the government today, revealing that the proportion of board appointments in the UK going to women has slumped to its lowest level in five years.

However, this year’s report, conducted by academics at City University London, Cranfield University and Queen Mary University London, also shows that the overall percentage of women on FTSE boards has increased compared to March 2015.

While the percentage of women on FTSE 100 boards has increased to 26 percent and to 20.4 percent on the FTSE 250 boards, the rate of progress has slowed since last year. 

Between September 2015 and March 2016, the number of female appointments dropped to 24.7 percent – the lowest figure since September 2011.

The announcement comes as Cilla Snowball CBE is appointed as the new Chair of the Women’s Business Council (WBC).

Progress in the executive ranks and in the executive pipeline remains slow. Only 9.7 percent of executive directors in the FTSE 100 are women, dropping to only 5.6 percent in the FTSE 250. 

This shortage of women in top senior roles may make it difficult to reach the new target of 33 percent women on boards by 2020. A constant turnover will be required and an appointment rate of 1 in 3 board positions going to women. Recently turnover rates have decreased, with fewer people leaving and joining companies, and the percentage of new appointments going to women over the past 6 months dropping below the 1 in 3 required to meet the 33 percent target.

Minister for Women and Equalities Nicky Morgan said:

This government has prioritised equality for women, pushing for greater representation in business and providing young women with the role models that inspire them and their career choices. We have already made huge progress – having increased the percentage of women on FTSE 100 boards from 12 percent to 26 percent.

But now is not the time to pat ourselves on the back and say ‘job well done’ – we must be even more ambitious. That’s why I am delighted that Sir Philip and Dame Helen will be heading up such a prestigious team of Britain’s best and brightest leaders to drive this ambition forward.

The expertise and passion of all the people involved leave me with no doubt that we will continue to see a genuine culture change at the heart of British business. This isn’t just important for women – it’s critical for our economy – that’s why I want to see greater representation from the classroom to the boardroom.

Sir Philip Hampton, chair of the Women on Boards review, described it as a “a pause in progress”. He suggested that companies that achieved the 25 percent target had a feeling of ‘OK, we’ve done it’.

Dame Helen Alexander, deputy chair of the review said the issue is “not just about numbers, but about getting change embedded and ensuring firms recognise female talent”.

Critics have highlighted the lack of number of women in influential executive roles, with most appointed to non-executive director roles. But Sir Philip stressed that his goal was to improve the pipeline of suitable female candidates for the future.

Sir Philip Hampton said:

It is clear that gender balance on FTSE boards has undergone a dramatic shift in recent years and this progress continues. However, we must significantly increase the number of women in senior leadership roles if we are to harness the skills of women for the benefit of business and the UK economy.

Sir Philip and Dame Helen have already begun taking action by engaging with executive search firms, business leaders, academics and other key parties on how best to improve the female pipeline within the FTSE 350.

A key element of the review will also consider current research on how to drive improvements and the obstacles preventing women’s progression. It is expected that findings will be presented to government by the end of 2016.

Corporate Governance Minister Baroness Neville-Rolfe said:

We have seen an increase of 137 percent in the number of women on boards. Yet 15 boards in the FTSE 350 are still all male and women only count for seven percent of executive directors.

Philip Hampton and Helen Alexander will examine how to improve the representation of women in the executive layer and champion continued increases in the representation of women on boards across the FTSE 350.

This will help to ensure a sustainable talent pool of women for board positions for both executive and non-executive positions in the future.

The new review and the changes to the WBC were announced this morning at an event hosted by KPMG.





Rebecca joined the HRreview editorial team in January 2016. After graduating from the University of Sheffield Hallam in 2013 with a BA in English Literature, Rebecca has spent five years working in print and online journalism in Manchester and London. In the past she has been part of the editorial teams at Sleeper and Dezeen and has founded her own arts collective.