Stark new report: FTSE 100 still very much a man’s world

NatWest chief executive Alison Rose is one of just nine women in the top job at FTSE 100 companies, despite the many diversity initiatives of recent years.

Alison Rose, chief executive of RBS parent firm NatWest, is one of only nine women to hold the top spot at a FTSE 100 company.
Alison Rose, chief executive of RBS parent firm NatWest, is one of only nine women to hold the top spot at a FTSE 100 company.
Alison Rose, chief executive of RBS parent firm NatWest, is one of only nine women to hold the top spot at a FTSE 100 company.

Time spent out of the workplace for childcare responsibilities is seen as a key reason women are being held back from the high-level positions that could put them on the shortlist for the chief executive role, according to recruitment firm Robert Half which carried out the research.

Of the nine female CEOs in the FTSE 100, four hail from the financial sector including Rose along with 44-year-old Italian born Milena Mondini-de-Focatiis of Admiral Group – the youngest female CEO on the list – as well as Amanda Blanc of Aviva and Anne Farlow of Pershing Square Holdings.

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Leyla Tindall, managing director for Robert Half Executive Search, said despite significant progress by companies to improve female representation over the last few years, “there are quite simply not enough female bosses filling the top spot in the UK’s most successful companies”.

Although the number of female CEOs has increased from just six in 2018, Tindall said there were “a myriad of reasons” why there were still relatively few women in the list.

“The most significant is the shortage of females in leadership positions – so shortlists for C-suite roles are often not as diverse as they could be,” she said.

“While the introduction of shared parental leave and better support for women returners is encouraging, the time spent away from the workplace to care for a family still sets women back, while their male counterparts continue to progress.”

The research found that 68 per cent of FTSE 100s got the top spot via internal promotion, up from 46 per cent in 2019, suggesting that businesses are enhancing their succession planning strategies.

Close to half of CEOs have achieved some form of post-graduate qualification, with 23 per cent holding an MBA, showing that higher education still plays a role in senior career progression.

In previous years, as many as one in five (18 per cent) of CEOs had attended Oxford or Cambridge, but their dominance in the boardroom is fading with only four from the current list of FTSE 100 CEOs having been educated there.

More than two fifths of CEOs have a background in finance and banking, despite only 19 of the top 100 companies belonging to the financial sector. Of these, 16 CEOs are chartered accountants or chartered management accountants, making this by far the most common profession at the top.

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Tindall said: “We are seeing more appetite for CFOs to take over running companies as the strategic mindset and strong financial acumen they bring are widely recognised as being vital for navigating companies through a financial downturn. However, as the economy improves, companies will look to employ visionaries to focus on growth and recovery.”

Last month, it was revealed that a record number of new businesses were started by women in Scotland last year, but there are concerns that the impact of the pandemic threatens to hold back further progress.

The research by the Rose Review on female entrepreneurship – headed by NatWest’s Rose – suggests women have spent twice as long on caring responsibilities during Covid-19 as their male counterparts and that their businesses have been less likely to recover.

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