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FTSE 350 hits 40% women on Boards – but the work shouldn’t stop there.

By Katie Ormrod
02 March 2023
Financial & Professional Services
Green & Good (ESG and Impact)

By Katie Ormrod

Earlier this week, British business received some good news. Figures from the FTSE Women Leaders Review showed that women now make up 40.2% of boardroom positions across FTSE 350 firms.

The FTSE Women Leaders review, a government backed initiative, set a voluntary target of 40.2% by the end of 2025 but that target has been reached three years ahead of time.

The result has been attributed to the change in perception around gender parity in the workplace. Denise Wilson, chief executive of the FTSE Women Leaders Review, told the BBC Today Programme earlier this week; ‘The hushed, water-cooler conversation on the lack of women from yesteryear has evolved into a core and critical business topic.’

This week’s numbers are a significant increase compared to just over a decade ago. In 2012, just 9.5% of board positions were held by women, and 152 of the boards in the FTSE350 had no women on them at all.

Today, there are just ten remaining FTSE 350 companies that still have all-male executives. Granted, that’s ten companies too many, but we must credit progress where it’s due…

The news also follows the publication of the latest Rose Review Progress Report, which reveals more women than ever launched companies in 2022. You might argue that it’s never been a better time to be a woman in business.

On the whole, I’d say I’m an optimistic feminist. But the cynic in me worries that these headlines overshadow the huge amount of work that remains to reach true gender parity in the workplace. Not least when still only nine firms in the FTSE 100 have a female chief executive.

What also strikes me about the FTSE Women Leaders Review, is the omission of any data that highlights the intersectionality of the issue. In all 82 pages of the review there’s been no data gathered around how many LGBTQ+ women or women of colour make up the headline 40.2% figure.

A study by the Black Women in Leadership Network highlighted in 2022 that there were no black women on boards of FTSE 100 companies. I’m no mathematician, but zero multiplied by 40.2% is still zero. This must change before we can boast of true representation in our boardrooms, and certainly before we start patting ourselves on the back.

What the stats also don’t show is what the workplace is really like for the women sat in those boardrooms, and indeed in workplaces all around the country. Stats from AllBright’s recent Future of Work survey found over a third (38%) of women intend to leave their job within the next 12 months, citing stress, balance, and burnout as their biggest career challenges currently.

Couple that with the eye-watering cost of childcare in the UK and the net result is a working environment that still isn’t setting women up to succeed at work.

This week’s figures from the FTSE Women Leaders Review should be celebrated and promoted. But let’s be clear, the work is not yet done.