new research by Cranfield University’s School of Management warns that there are still too few women in senior leadership positions

There are only five female CEOs in the FTSE 100

Voluntary targets have boosted gender diversity on UK boards. However, new research by Cranfield University’s School of Management warns that there are still too few women in senior leadership positions, such as CEO and Chair, to drive long-term change.

The annual Female FTSE Board Report, sponsored this year by EY, finds that although the FTSE 350 looks on track to reach the target of 33% of women on boards by December 2020, a lack of representation at the top could be impacting the number of women in the executive pipeline.

The most notable increase in female representation is among non-executive director (NED) roles. In the FTSE 100 the percentage of female NEDs is at an all-time high of 40.8% (38.9% in 2019). The percentage of female executives has risen only slightly to 13.2% (10.9% in 2019).

Sue Vinnicombe, Professor of Women and Leadership at Cranfield University, and lead author of the report, said:

“This year our research establishes that it is not sufficient just to have a critical mass of women Non-Executive Directors on a board in order to increase the number of women in the executive pipeline. There need to be women in influential roles such as Executive Directors.

“The added dimension of COVID-19 means organisations must be pro-active to address the long-term impact of the pandemic on women’s careers. With more focus on flexible working and wellbeing, it is an opportunity to progress the diversity agenda.”

Targets can unroot bias and enable meritocracy

The Female FTSE Board Report found that targets are now established as normal business practice. Those set by the Davies and Hampton-Alexander Reviews have driven internally-set targets in organisations. Elena Doldor, reader in Organisational Behaviour at Queen Mary University of London, and report co-author, said:

“Targets don’t threaten meritocracy, they enable it. Our research indicates that when used ambitiously and systemically, targets can unroot bias across key talent management processes and contribute to genuine culture change.

“For targets to become more robust, it is critical that organisations put in place accountability mechanisms for meeting their targets and address the long-term impact of the pandemic on women’s careers.”

The Women to Watch supplement to the Female FTSE Board Report is also published today and highlights 100 inspiring senior women business leaders who are ideally suited to board positions on FTSE 350 companies now or in the near future.

The Female FTSE Board Report is produced annually by Cranfield University’s School of Management, which has been monitoring trends in women’s representation on FTSE 350 boards since 1998.

The 2020 report authors are Professor Sue Vinnicombe CBE, Dr Elena Doldor, Reader in Organisational Behaviour at Queen Mary University of London, Dr Valentina Battista, Lecturer in Human Resource Management, Cranfield University and Michelle Tessaro, Doctoral Researcher at Cranfield University.