Number of women on UK corporate boards rises 50% in 5 years

People walk past the Bank of England in the City of London financial district of London, during England's third coronavirus lockdown, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday a slow easing of one of Europe's strictest pandemic lockdowns, with non-essential shops and hairdressers due to reopen April 12. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
People walk past the Bank of England in the City of London financial district of London, during England's third coronavirus lockdown, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday a slow easing of one of Europe's strictest pandemic lockdowns, with non-essential shops and hairdressers due to reopen April 12. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

LONDON – Women now hold more than a third of the seats on the boards of Britain’s biggest companies, meeting a government target set five years ago.

The number of women on the boards of directors of Britain’s 350 top publicly traded firms has jumped by more than 50% since 2015, meaning that 34.3% of all board seats are now held by women, an independent panel said in a report published Wednesday. Women hold at least one-third of the board seats at 220 companies, up from 53 five years ago.

While companies met the target for board membership, women still lag behind in the competition for senior executive roles, particularly at smaller firms. Women hold 26.5% of executive committee seats at the 100 largest companies and just 21.7% of these seats at smaller companies.

“The progress has been strongest with non-executive positions on boards, but the coming years should see many more women taking top executive roles,” said Philip Hampton, the former chairman of Royal Bank of Scotland who led the panel. “That’s what is needed to sustain the changes made.”

The British government set the one-third goal as part of an effort to encourage businesses to voluntarily increase the number of women on their boards and in senior executive roles. Other countries, including France, Norway, Sweden and Italy, have set legally binding quotas.

Women hold 43.8% of the board seats at companies in France’s 40 biggest publicly traded companies, the U.K. panel said. The corresponding number for Norway is 39.5%, Sweden 37.3% and Italy 36.5%

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said he hoped Britain’s voluntary approach would provide an example for other countries.

“The U.K. government’s voluntary, business-led approach to increasing women’s boardroom representation has been hugely successful and will, I hope, serve as a blueprint for countries across the world looking to make business more reflective of society,” he said in a statement.