Skip to main content

Financial Times Stock Exchange (FTSE) - Women Leaders Review: Achieving Gender Balance

The FTSE Women Leaders Review is an independent, business-led framework supported by the government, which sets recommendations for Britain’s largest companies to improve the representation of women on FTSE 350 Boards and in FTSE 350 Leadership positions. It tracks progress on 24,000 Board and leadership roles and builds on the work of the Hampton-Alexander and Davies Reviews over the last 10 years.

A report on the latest review can be found here


  • Almost 40 per cent of UK FTSE 100 board positions are now held by women (p9)
  • FTSE 100, 250 and 350 all improved the number of women in leadership roles in 2021 (p9)
  • The UK's voluntary, business-led approach to setting targets for more women on boards has put the UK second in international rankings for board representation, leapfrogging a number of countries which enforce mandatory quota system on businesses (p39)
  • The number of women in Chair roles across the FTSE 350 rose to 48, up from 39 in 2020. Some 115 women occupying the Senior Independent Director role. Almost half of all FTSE 350 Boards now have a woman in either the Chair, or Senior Independent Director roles. There has been a significant decrease in the number of ‘one & done’ boards to just six (p9)
  • Although representation of women is increasing, only one in three leadership roles and around 25 per cent of all executive committee roles are held by women (p8)
  • The number of FTSE 350 female CEOs (18, up from 15 in 2017) remains “flat and stubbornly low”. Women are also missing from many key functional roles, in particular Finance Directors and the Chief Information Officers (p9, p46)
  • The number of all-male executive committees in the FTSE 350 has reduced again to 16, down from 54 in 2017 (p9)
  • There are 171 FTSE 350 companies that are still below the women leadership target of 33 per cent women by 2020 and 72 FTSE 350 companies which had failed to meet the board target of 33 per cent women by 2020 (p13)
  • The review recommends a series of new targets including a voluntary target for FTSE 350 Boards and for leadership teams to increase to a minimum of 40 per cent women’s representation by the end of 2025 (p10)
  • FTSE 350 companies should have at least one woman in the Chair, Senior Independent Director role on the Board and/or one woman in the Chief Executive Officer or Finance Director role by the end of 2025 (p10)
  • The review also recommends extending the scope of the FTSE Women Leaders Review beyond FTSE 350 companies to include the largest 50 private companies in the UK by sales (p10)


Implications for HE governance:

Work has intensified in recent years to diversify boardrooms and governing bodies in sectors across the UK, to tackle inequality and gain the benefit of a range of voices, perspectives and skills.

But while the direction of travel highlighted in the (FTSE) Women Leaders Review report is positive, it also shines a light on areas where there is still more to do and recommends new targets which go further.

The report, backed by the government, provides an opportunity for university governing bodies to reflect on their own progress and consider whether the processes and practices in place are bringing more women into governance, both at board and executive level. 

Nationally, 41.9 per cent of university governors are women, according to an Advance HE analysis of Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data.  The analysis cites a 2018 leaders’ in HE report by WomenCount which found that 55 per cent of governing bodies were gender balanced - classed as between 40 per cent and 60 per cent women - and that 27 per cent of governing bodies were chaired by a woman.

While women represent 54.6 per cent of the HE workforce, their representation declines dramatically at higher levels of seniority. Just 29 per cent of HEIs had a woman Vice-Chancellor or Principal, 37 per cent of executive or senior teams were women and less than a third of the top tier of academic faculties or schools were headed by a woman – a figure that had not changed since 2016.

The WomenCount report found that across the UK, most nations had a majority of gender-balanced boards. Wales had achieved parity between men and women in Vice-Chancellor roles, while Scotland had parity between men and women as Chairs of governing bodies. Scottish institutions may be further down the road because of the Gender Representation on Public Boards Act, which requires that half of a board's non-executive members are women and that public authorities take certain steps towards achieving the objective.

As in the business world, the picture across UK higher education shows that while strides have been taken, more needs to be done. There were still, in 2018, 45 per cent of HEIs that had less than 40 per cent women on their governing bodies and nearly three quarters of HEI Chairs were men.

The factors behind this underrepresentation are myriad and complex but much is being done across the sector to try to give women opportunities.

Developments include the board vacancy portal introduced by Advance HE and the Committee of University Chairs and Advance HE’s HE board Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit, which is designed to help member institutions to improve the diversity and inclusivity of their governing bodies.

Well developed programmes such as the Athena SWAN Charter have been adopted by many institutions wishing to advance women into leadership, while the Aurora scheme is specifically targeted at women up to a senior lecturer level or professional services equivalent.

As highlighted in the Committee of University Chairs latest Code of Governance checklist, HEIs are required by law to comply with equality and diversity legislation, and governing bodies are legally responsible for ensuring the institution’s compliance. The Code advises that as a minimum, governing bodies must receive an annual equality monitoring report setting out work done by the institution during the year, identifying the achievement of agreed objectives and summarising the data on equality, inclusivity and diversity that they are required to produce and publish. Such reporting may offer an opportunity for governors to consider what steps may be taken towards achieving better representation of women on their own board, and at senior positions in their institution.

Access the report

Keep up to date – sign up to Advance HE communications

Our monthly newsletter contains the latest news from Advance HE, updates from around the sector, links to articles sharing knowledge and best practice and information on our services and upcoming events. Don't miss out, sign up to our newsletter now.

Sign up to our communications