According to a recent report, the number of women on the boards of leading UK companies has increased by 50% in the past five years to 1,026.

Kirsty McManus
Kirsty McManus

The data was contained in the final report of the Hampton-Alexander Review, a government backed initiative to increase the representation of women in leadership and in the boardroom.

It showed that more than a third of FTSE 350 board roles are now held by women, up from 21% in 2015, so it is clear great progress has been made.

It’s important because we know that having greater gender diversity on executive boards provides vast benefits and can significantly boost business success.

According to McKinsey and Co, positives include above average profitability, improved decision-making with new ideas and diverse perspectives, as well as a greater ability to anticipate shifts in consumer needs and consumption patterns.

These are all critical capabilities for business success in this current economic climate and something we hope to see further advances in as the UK and the rest of the world enter recovery mode following the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Hampton-Alexander, 220 of the FTSE 350 companies now meet its target of having at least 33% of their board positions held by women and while there is still considerably greater representation for men in the upper ranks of leading UK firms, there are no longer any all-male boards in the FTSE 350.

An improvement, but more to be done and diversity and inclusion remains a work in progress for many organisations

While it is hugely positive to see increased representation in non-executive roles for women, as outlined in the review, progress in fostering diversity at the senior executive level has been much slower.

It’s not just about gender either. Organisations must continue to focus their attention on developing boards with a breadth of perspectives, with a renewed focus on strengthening the pipeline of talent from a range of backgrounds into senior positions.

If we need any inspiration, we need only look at the many great female leaders among the Northern Ireland business community, many of whom took part in the first of our virtual Women’s Leadership Conference broadcasts last Friday.

As we mark International Women’s Day, we look to them and others who have paved the way for female leaders today and helped achieve the progress needed within the boards of leading UK companies.

As we meet virtually again this Friday, we’ll learn from other inspirational leaders such as iconic environmental activist and consumer advocate Erin Brockovich and spacecraft operation engineer, Nagin Cox.

With examples such as these, it is obvious why having women in senior positions makes good business sense and is an essential aspect in contributing towards our post COVID economic recovery.

We celebrate the progress made to date in eradicating gender and other biases, and we look forward to boundaries continuing to expand in our boardrooms in the years ahead.