Slow progress for women on business boards

The numbers are up but could still be better.

Women hold 42% of board seats at big UK firms, but just 10 are FTSE 100 bosses.

Fewer than 10 per cent of CEOs at UK FTSE 350 companies are female and just 10 are FTSE 100 bosses.

The proportion of board positions held by women in the FTSE 350 rose to a record high of 42% this year, up from 24.5% in 2017 when the report was launched.

In the FTSE 100, 25% of finance directors were female, up from 23%, and 27% of chief information officers were women, up from 21%. Women make up 30% of executive committees.

The FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) rules are that 40% of boards should be women and a woman should occupy at least one of the senior board positions.

Senior board positions are chair, chief executive, chief financial officer or senior independent director.

Despite the improvements, “the appointment rate continues to be in favour of men. In the FTSE 100, two-thirds of new appointments went to men in 2021 (1,604) compared to just one-third of women (945).”

According to “In 2020, 16% of SME employers were led by women, up from 15% in 2019.”

The presence of women in business varies by sector it says: “In 2020, just 6% of SME employers were led by women in the construction sector, compared to 37% in the health sector, 36% in the education sector, and 25% in the accommodation and food services”.

So while progress has been made, what continues to hold women back?

Women-led SMEs contribute around £85 billion to the annual economic output in the UK, which is 16% of the Gross Value Added by SMEs. 

According to the NatWest Rose review, “more women than ever are starting new companies, with 145,200 all-female-led incorporations in 2021, up from 56,200 in 2018, an average year-on-year growth of 37.3%”.

It calculates that £250 billion could be added to the UK economy if women in the UK matched men in starting and scaling businesses.

This is where access to finance is key.

Some High Street banks, such as Santander and Metro Bank, have been proactive but female access to finance is still challenging.

The 2023 Review found that 50 per cent of female business leaders and entrepreneurs reported finding access to funding and investment hard in the past 12 months.


It is argued that traditional money lending methods follow the conventional practices of favouring financing business owned by men and that most lending businesses are run by men, and the lending models created by bank lenders are also predominately male-led.

BFS’ (Bibby Financial Services) research reinforces this: 62 per cent of female SME leaders assert that securing a business loan is now more challenging compared to pre-pandemic, compared to 57 per cent of male business leaders.

Clearly, there is more work to be done to create a level playing field for women as entrepreneurs, CEOs and on boards.

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