Only 47 women hold executive directorships at FTSE 250 companies in ‘appalling’ lack of progress, study shows

While the number of female directors has increased, research suggests this is simply to meet targets as women are not progressed further by boards

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There are only 47 women with executive directorship roles at FTSE 250 companies, as a study suggests progress in directors’ roles is down to firms complying with targets. 

The research by Cranfield University found that women account for almost two-fifths (40 per cent) of directors on FTSE 100 boards and 39 per cent on FTSE 250 boards, largely meeting the new Women Leaders Review targets. 

However, Cranfield University’s Female FTSE Board Report 2022, supported by EY, called out an “appalling lack of progress” of women into executive roles and suggested that the increase has been driven by boards appointing female non-executive directors (NEDs) to comply with targets.

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Sue Vinnicombe, professor of women and leadership at Cranfield School of Management and lead author of the report, said: “We have come a long way since I started this report in 1999, but just having women in NED roles is not sufficient to have an impact on the executive pipeline.

“The lack of progress in terms of seeing women in these key executive roles is frankly appalling. For real change to happen, women simply must be in the significant decision-making roles of CEO and chair.”

The report found that out of the 413 directorships held by women across the FTSE 100, just nine were CEOs, 18 were chairs and 377 were NEDs. The number of women in NED roles in the FTSE 100 has increased by 15 per cent over the past year, whereas women in executive directorships increased by just 3 per cent to 36.

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Meanwhile, in the FTSE 250, the number of women on boards has increased from 35 per cent to 39 per cent year on year, with 110 companies already meeting the 40 per cent target. 

Alison Kay, UK and Ireland managing partner for client service at EY, said the research showed businesses are hitting targets but falling “woefully short” of distributing the “power and influence necessary to achieve true gender parity”.

“Companies have exhausted all the so-called ‘low-hanging fruit’ and now it is time for tough decisions to push further into root and branch reform,” said Kay, adding that organisations must “dig much deeper and go beyond complying with board-level targets to transform their business and boost its performance”. 

The report recommended that greater guidance was needed for nominations committees – which predominantly seek out potential candidates to fill senior management positions and board membership roles – making their role in improving gender diversity more explicit, and for CEOs to recognise they have ultimate control and capability to disrupt the current hiatus.

Michelle Tessaro, executive doctoral researcher at Cranfield School of Management who conducted the analysis, said succession planning was often left to the CEO, but there “must be more chair, and indeed board, accountability for delivering on diversity objectives. The board must ensure the talent pipeline is developed so women are not ‘pushed out’ or ‘opt out’ of important career development opportunities.”