Women parity with men in top roles at FTSE 350 firms pushed back to 2036 by pandemic

·3 min read
Men now hold 78% of all executive committee roles in the FTSE 350 and women 22%. Photo: Getty
Men now hold 78% of all executive committee roles in the FTSE 350 and women 22%. Photo: Getty

Gender parity in top jobs across the UK’s biggest 350 listed firms has been pushed back to 2036 by the pandemic despite firms with female executives far outperforming their rivals, according to a report.

The annual Women Count study by The Pipeline has found that progress in boosting gender diversity slowed over the past year, with the coronavirus crisis delaying the predicted moment when there will be an equal split of women and men on executive teams by four years.

It showed that men now hold 78% of all executive committee roles in the FTSE 350 and women 22%.

While it said women are in a better position than five years ago, it found the increase in roles held by women slowed to 2.5% in 2021, down from 2.7% the previous year.

But the report calculated that firms with women in senior roles outperformed male-run companies by nearly 40%.

It estimates that those without women in at least a third of top jobs are missing out on £123bn collectively in pre-tax profits.

The report comes just a week after the Bank of England, Prudential Regulation Authority and the Financial Conduct Authority revealed they are looking at ways to use their powers to boost diversity in the financial services sector.

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Lorna Fitzsimons, co-founder of The Pipeline, said: “Times of crisis are moments that offer the possibility of major shifts away from established paradigms, but the extreme stresses involved can also drive a response that is regressive.

“The data in Women Count 2021 reveals that FTSE 350 companies have not used the pandemic as a transformative moment for their businesses, instead there has been a reversion to type with companies continuing to fail women.”

It said the so-called C-suite of highest executive positions remains a “near total male domain” in the FTSE 350, with women accounting for just 5% of chief executive posts, up from 4% last year.

The Pipeline said this is costing firms and the economy dear.

The report’s data shows that FTSE 350 companies with women making up at least 50% of the executive committee secured a profit margin of 21.2%.

In contrast, those without any women on their executive teams suffered on average a plunge in profits of 17.5%.

Yet the research showed that nearly three-fifths of companies, 59%, have no women in profit and loss roles in their executive committees.

Margaret McDonagh, co-founder of The Pipeline, said: “Women Count 2021 shows that without decisive action, the future is looking grim for both women who want to be the next boss and the wider economy.

“Evidence of this lies in the incredibly low level of women who are in executive committee roles with profit and loss responsibility, which are critical pre-CEO positions, a situation that remains largely unchanged in the last 12 months.”

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The report said “time has run out” for firms to take voluntary action, with speculation the Government may step in to regulate on the issue at some stage.

The Bank of England and City regulators said last week that bosses of financial services firms could see their pay linked to diversity targets under proposals being discussed.

Other ways they may look to increase diversity and inclusion include the use of data, disclosure and regular reporting to allow regulators to monitor progress.

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