Has the FTSE 100 boardroom gender gap really narrowed?

While females now account for a third of board membership among the UK’s elite companies, a staggering 88% of their roles are in a non-executive capacity, finds DiversityQ.

Ahead of the launch of DiversityQ’s report into the make-up of FTSE 100 boardrooms, initial findings have found that, although the target of 33% female representation by 2020 has been met, the reality is that a startling 88% of the positions women occupy are non-executive roles.

In its study, DiversityQ found that women now hold 346 directorships within FTSE 100 companies – an increase of seven from 2019 – taking them over the ‘magic’ 33% figure. But, while the number of females with executive directorships has risen by a very healthy 50%, the resulting total of 43 still represents a paltry 4.1% of senior roles overall. 

This disparity is highlighted no more so than in the Financial Services and Insurance industry. Of the 142 board members across the sector, 50 are women, yet 45 of those positions are non-executive. Within IT, of the 29 board members in total, nine are women – but only one holds an executive role. The story is similar across the FTSE 100.


“While it is heartening to see the gender gap on the boards of FTSE 100 companies narrowing, the figures mask the reality – that there is still a paucity of females in executive roles,” said Cheryl Cole, editor of DiversityQ, a Bonhill Group publication.

“Yes, the rise in representation of women on boards has been significant in recent years – growing to 33% from less than 7% two decades ago – but, it is clear there is still a long way to go for women to be truly represented at the top of the UK’s leading organisations.”

The number of companies with at least 33% of female directors has hit 58%, up ten percentage points in the same period last year, and all 100 companies have at least one female director. However, those with a female executive director has risen only marginally to 26 (from 25 in 2019), meaning a startling 74% of FTSE 100 companies still have only men occupying the senior roles.

Investment manager M&G leads the way with 57% of their board being female, while Rightmove, Autotrader, Diageo and Taylor Wimpey have also hit 50%. Sadly, this equates to just 5% of the FTSE 100 having an equal split or better. And it’s the same disappointing percentage for companies with a female chief executive – although RBS has very much bucked the trend with both its chief executive and chief financial officer being women. Five companies – Taylor Wimpey, Land Securities, Imperial Brands, Croda and Admiral Group – boast female chairs, while Diageo has a female chair of remuneration.

Perhaps even more startling is the lack of BAME representation at board level – just 6.8% of FTSE 100 board members are of black, Asian or minority ethnicity; 56% of these are female. 

Simon Stilwell, chief executive at Bonhill Group, added: “The low representation of women and BAME at the highest level is a sad indictment of where the UK’s biggest companies are at with regards to diversity. The FTSE 100 is still very much a white male-dominated world and although we have seen some progress there is so much more to do. The wide-ranging benefits of having a diverse workforce are there for everyone to see. This principle applies to senior leadership, as well.”


Phil Clisby

Phil Clisby is a freelance journalist.

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