Britain makes barely any progress increasing the number of female CEOs

Gender pay gap

Gender pay gap

The number of women leading UK companies has barely increased over the past year, with just 6.3pc of firms run by a female chief executive.

The figure compares with 6pc in 2019 and 6.2pc in 2020, marking another 12 months of marginal progress. However, the UK ranks fifth among the G20 nations in terms of the proportion of women leading companies, according to data from S&P Capital IQ that canvasses almost 300,000 businesses across the globe.

The data covers private companies as well as listed businesses, taking in a more diverse range of firms than the league tables which look only at the highest profile groups such as the FTSE 100.

Felicia Willow, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, a charity that campaigns for gender equality and women’s rights, said: “After a year in which women have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic policy response in the workplace, employers need to take a more proactive response to gender equality,” adding: “Gender equality is good for business, which makes the slow progress we are seeing even more disappointing.”

Companies have been under pressure to increase the number of women in senior roles and to improve pay inequality between men and women.

The Government has taken steps to tackle the issue. In 2017 it introduced legislation into the Equality Act requiring all organisations with more than 250 employees to publish gender pay gap figures each year, showing the difference of both hourly pay and bonus payments for men and women.

In 2016 the Government appointed Sir Philip Hampton and the late Dame Helen Alexander to chair an independent review aimed at increasing the proportion of women at the top of companies.

It recommended that at least one-third of FTSE 350 company boards should be made up of women by 2020 and at least one-third of the executive committees should also be female.

In February this year, the review found women now make up around 40pc, in aggregate, of the non-executive directors on FTSE 350 boards, with roughly 65pc of FTSE 350 companies meeting the 33pc target of board positions held by women.



There are no more all-male boards. However, the proportion of top ranking female executives on boards and on executive committees remains well below target. There are only 17 female chief executives across the FTSE 350.

Globally, the US leads the field with the highest proportion of female chief executives than any other country, at 8.4pc. South Africa is next with 7.3pc, followed by China’s 5.4pc.

At the other end of the table are Japan and Saudi Arabia, where 1.3pc of corporate chiefs are female.

Ann Cairns, executive vice chairman of Mastercard and a member of the 30pc Club, which aims to increase gender diversity at senior management levels, said while progress in the boardroom had been impressive in Britain over the past decade, women were not climbing to the top of companies fast enough.

She said simple measures like equal parental leave, pay policies and pay gap reporting could help. Men in power also need to change the status quo by championing people “who don’t look or think like them”.