2023 Female board representation in UK manufacturing

Against the backdrop of the recent loss of several significant and successful female world leaders across countries including Germany, Finland and New Zealand, we renew our analysis of the progress UK manufacturing is making towards leadership gender equity, in the hope of finding some offsetting good news.

This year's analysis of the board make-up of the UK's largest listed Industrials companies offers up limited progress.  Overall, female participation at board level has stayed constant with the Spring 2022 analysis at c.40%.

This share of board seats also remains materially skewed towards non-executive director roles, with almost half (47.6%) of all independent and non-executive director roles at the 25 manufacturing-focused participants in the FTSE 100, which make up the primary data set here, being women.

This relative parity at NXD level is significantly offset by the fact the 'big 3' board seats of Chair, CEO and CFO continue to be dominated by men, with only 12 of a possible 75 spaces in the sample set currently filled by women, equivalent to 16%. It is also notable, that the relative strength of the female NXD community has seen an uplift in the number of female Chairs, with 6 of the 25 companies analysed (24%), having a woman non-executive running the board.

Regrettably, the same cannot be said of the CEO role, with only the housebuilder Taylor Wimpey and pharmaceuticals manufacturer GSK boasting a woman in the top executive role. This is an improvement on 2022 when Dame Emma Walmsley at GSK was the only female CEO in the data set. But it’s scant progress for another year.

The CFO position is slightly more positive, for while only four of the 25 companies in the analysis currently boast a female CFO (Astra Zeneca, drinks-maker Diageo, Smith & Nephew, and engineering giant Smiths plc); both GSK and Rolls Royce have formally appointed a female CFO-designate, with Helen McCabe already joining the board of the aerospace giant.

The number of key board seats filled by women remains frustrating consistent with the 15% reported in 2022 and the 16.5% the year before. It needs to be acknowledged that this is a small data set of some 283 board seats across 25 businesses and that the company set changes slightly every year as relevant companies join or slip out of the FTSE 100. Nonetheless, it does indicate that progress has stalled in the last couple of years. Because the rate of change is impacted by the tenure of sitting CEOs, one needs to question whether there is a role for stronger guidance on the inclusion of female candidates in every CEO recruitment process, whether sourced internally or externally.

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