Less than 1% of top UK board roles held by women of colour

by | Jun 21, 2024

A report released today, Hidden Truth: Diversity & Inclusion in the FTSE All-Share, reveals a remarkable lack of diversity across the four positions of power in the FTSE and AIM listings, with women of colour holding less than 1% of top boardroom roles

The report by WB Directors, and sponsored by global consulting firm Protiviti, includes the first in-depth analysis of the number of women in the roles of Chair, Senior Independent Director (SID), Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Chief Financial Officer (CFO) across the FTSE All-Share and AIM companies. It found that just 13% of these top roles are held by women (436 women across 3,452 roles), despite the FTSE Women Leaders Review introducing a focus on these four roles and the Financial Conduct Authority going further to set a target for firms to have at least one woman in these positions.

Notably, just 0.7% of these top roles are held by women of colour (25 women of colour across 3,452 roles). AIM listed firms show the lowest level of diversity with just 0.3% of these roles held by women of colour (seven women of colour across over 2,000 roles), while the proportion of senior roles held by women of colour in FTSE 100 is 1.5%

Overall, the FTSE 100 has 24% of women in top four board roles putting them close to the target of 1 of the 4. The FTSE 250 has 19.6% of women in the top four roles and the FTSE SmallCap fares marginally better at 21.7%. However,the two most senior roles of Chair and CEO are those with the least female representation, at just 7.9% and 6.8% respectively across the FTSE All-Share and AIM listings. 

WB Directors is calling for greater scrutiny and monitoring when it comes to intersectional measurement of boardroom diversity, specifically across these top four roles. 

AIM companies lagging on gender diversity 

The report also found that AIM companies are lagging behind their larger peers when it comes to gender diversity in the boardroom. A mere 6.6% of top board roles are held by women, while over a third of AIM companies have all-male boards. This is a significant increase since 2023, from 18% (108) in 2023 to 35% (187) in 2024. 

Firms need to double down on efforts to meet the 40% women leadership target

Despite the overall proportion of female board directors across FTSE All-Share firms registering at just above 40%, over a third (35%) of FTSE All-Share firms have not reached the target of having a board made up of 40% or more women. In addition, a staggering 88% of AIM companies are falling short of the 40% women in leadership target by 2025.

Fiona Hathorn, CEO, WB Directors says, “Targets and scrutiny have resulted in hard-fought gains at FTSE 350 level. However, it’s time to extend focus to the smaller listed companies and ensure that efforts to monitor board diversity are intersectional across gender and ethnicity. There is a persistent underrepresentation of women and especially women of colour in positions of power. We need firms across the FTSE SmallCap and AIM to urgently act on creating greater diversity at all levels. Measure it, report it, make it public – or the laggards will continue to simply opt out.”

Janet Barberis, Managing Director, Internal Audit and Financial Advisory Practice, Protiviti says, “Regarding diversity, while there have been important advances at the leadership ranks in organisations over the past decade, the glass ceiling still very much exists. This is why the research and advocacy that WB Directors performs is so important. 

“Multiple studies show that organisations with diverse leadership deliver stronger operational results, providing a clear business case for greater diversity in the board and C-suite. But more importantly, diverse leadership brings to the organisation a broader range of thinking and perspectives that is critical in today’s highly competitive and fast-moving business landscape. It also enhances the organisation’s ability to attract and retain top talent, which is vital to building and managing a sustainable business model for the next 10 years and beyond.”

Busola Sodeinde, NED, Audit Chair and former CFO comments, “It’s surprising to see less than 1% of women of colour in key board roles across FTSE and AIM companies. There is no shortage of experienced, capable women, ambitious for themselves and their company across all sectors of business today. We need those in positions of power to take these findings seriously and to use this moment as an opportunity to create the change needed.” 

Bridging the gap between ED&I intention and action 

The Hidden Truth: Diversity & Inclusion in the FTSE All-Share report, which is sponsored by global consulting firm Protiviti, also took a deep dive into the issues blocking progress. It surveyed 200 senior HR and equity, diversity and inclusion professionals and found a gap between company intention and action on diversity and inclusion initiatives. Over half (54%) of respondents agreed that expectations have increased from the board and senior leadership when it comes to ED&I and 70% of the respondents noted that expectations of employees had increased too. Yet less than a quarter (21%) said budgets have increased to support efforts and only 35% said wider resources have increased.

While incremental progress is being made towards ED&I goals, this report identifies the work still needing to be done to ensure that diversity, equity, and inclusion is reflected across an organisation’s culture and represented in its leadership. 

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