Female board representation in UK manufacturing

In line with International Women’s Day, we are taking our annual look at female board representation at the top end of UK manufacturing. Our survey of the 28 manufacturing companies within the current FTSE 100 shows that while steady progress is being made in terms of overall board representation, with 40% of main board directors being female (versus 35% last year), women continue to be locked out of the key executive rolls within major manufacturers.

With only 15% of executive board members (typically the CEO, CFO and or COO or Company Sec), this is actually down on last year’s 16.5%.  Indeed, Emma Walmsley at GSK remains the sole female CEO in the group.  While the changing nature of the FTSE 100 means year to year comparison is note perfect (for example ABF and Johnson Matthey have both dropped out of the FTSE 100 and therefore our data set since last time, while Mondi and Ferguson have joined) it is clear that the progress made with regard to balance from a corporate oversite perspective is not being replicated within the senior executive management of sector companies. The sector is partly hampered in this regard by the UK sector’s seeming relative failure to make engineering more attractive to female secondary school students as a career choice.

It is worth noting that engineering courses in Indian universities tend to have a much larger proportion of female students than here, while in parts of the middle east up to half of engineers in some sectors are female. This compares to an average of c 12% in the UK.  While still underweight, there are a growing number of female CFO’s in the survey group so it may be that our best hope to see more female CEO’s in the sector in the short terms is for the likes of Aradhana Sarin at Astra Zeneca, Lavanya Chandrashekar at Diageo or Anne-Francoise Nesmes at Smith + Nephew to graduate to the CEO seat, not an entirely uncommon path in public companies, or for the sector to draw successful female leaders across from other sectors. 

Neither route, however, gets us past the need to do a better job of attracting and developing more talented young female engineers if we are going to fundamentally rebalance the make-up of senior executive leadership in the UK manufacturing sector.

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