Severn Trent Water is to become the first FTSE 100 company to have women occupying the three key roles of chief executive, chair and chief financial officer later this year.
Helen Miles, who is currently the water utility firm’s capital and commercial services director, will be appointed as chief financial officer designate in April, before taking full responsibility for the role from 6 July following a handover process as current incumbent, James Bowling, retires.
Miles will join boss Liv Garfield, who has led Severn Trent since 2014, and Christine Hodgson, who has chaired it since April 2020. She has previously served as chief financial officer of Openreach, the broadband arm of BT, and home repairs group Homeserve.
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In the FTSE 100, eight companies have a female chief executive, while of the roughly 400 women on the boards of blue-chip firms, the vast majority (around 90%) are non-executive directors.
However, progress has been made. Nearly 40% of FTSE 100 leadership positions are now held by women, compared with 12.5% a decade ago, according to figures published in 2022 by the FTSE Women Leaders Review.
In 2021 women held 39.1% of board positions among FTSE 100 companies, 36.8% in the FTSE 250, and 37.6% of positions among the FTSE 350, the review found.
This progress has led to the UK FTSE 100 moving from fifth to second in international gender diversity rankings among listed companies, putting it ahead of Norway whose listed companies have a mandatory quota system in place. France still leads the way, with 43.8% female representation at board level.
The most notable among the female bosses include Alison Rose of NatWest, Dame Emma Walmsley of drugs giant GSK and Admiral chief executive Milena Mondini de Focatiis. Also on the list are Aviva’s Amanda Blanc, Taylor Wimpey’s Jennie Daly and Jette Nygaard-Andersen, boss of Ladbrokes owner Entain. Vodafone boss Margherita Della Valle is currently holding the position on an interim basis.
At Severn Trent, Garfield said: “I am absolutely delighted that Helen will be his [Bowling’s] successor. Helen is a highly experienced and commercial CFO with a detailed understanding of the water sector and a proven track record of exceptional delivery.”
Severn Trent reported a 2.4% rise in profits to £262m in the six months to the end of September but the firm, along with most other water utility firms, has come under fierce criticism over repeated sewage discharges and pricing at a time when the cost of living has soared. In December 2021 it was fined £1.5m for discharging untreated sewage on 61,000 occasions over the previous year.
In 2022 the company escaped punishment while 11 other suppliers were slapped with fines.
Many of the leading water companies in the UK are led by women. Of the three top water firms listed on the London Stock Exchange, two of them, Severn Trent and Pennon – whose boss is Susan Davy – have female chief executives.
The third provider, United Utilities, will join them when Louise Beardmore succeeds Steve Mogford this year.
Thames Water chief executive Sarah Bentley, has run the group since September 2020, while Northumbrian Water is headed by Heidi Mottram, who upon her appointment in 2010 became the first woman to run a major British water company.
Yorkshire Water is headed up by Nicola Shaw while Sara Venning is chief executive of state-owned Northern Ireland Water.
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