Nearly one in four big British companies can’t seem to find qualified women for their boards

Gender disparity.
Gender disparity.
Image: Reuters/David Gray
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Britain’s biggest companies have a gender problem. And according to the annual Hampton-Alexander Review of women leaders in the FTSE 350, the UK’s largest firms can’t seem to find more women to fill senior positions on boards and committees.

Squint and you may see “progress” being made. In 2017, women accounted for 27.7% of board positions at the FTSE 100 (pdf, p. 23)—up a whole 1.1% from 2016. The bar was so low before, just 12.5% in 2011, that being around a quarter seems pretty good. Meanwhile, the number of FTSE 100 all-male executive committees is falling, now down from 12 to seven over the last year.

Look deeper into the report and the statistics show that the nation’s biggest companies are barely making any meaningful progress on hitting a level of at least a third of women on boards. Across FTSE 250 companies, nearly one in four (47) have no women on their boards. When looking at the FTSE 350, there are 10 all-male boards.

And when new openings come up, they generally go to men.

In the FTSE 100, for executive committees with an average 11 members, 71.8% of the new appointments went to men. For high-level employees who report directly to members of the Executive Committee—an average of 73 per company—67.8% of new openings went to men.

Across the FTSE 250, the numbers give similar readings—79.5% of new roles on the executive committees went to men and men won 71.5% of appointments as a Direct Report.

Women have a long way to go in remotely coming close to gender parity in the workplace, especially in Britain. And as Quartz has reported, researchers from the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University found that women are more likely to be appointed to seats vacated by other women. When men step down, they are more likely to be replaced by men.

Many of these companies have never had a woman on their board, making it even more unlikely that a woman will they get the next vacant position. And that’s how the cycle of gender disparity continues.