Women make up less than a tenth of chief executives at listed companies in the UK, which is lagging behind other major global economies.
According to executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles, which analysed the profiles of 1,095 CEOs at the largest publicly listed companies in 24 markets worldwide, gender diversity in the top leadership position is still woefully inadequate.
At its snapshot date on 5 July 2021, just 8% of CEOs at UK listed companies were female – although this proportion is higher than the 5% recorded a year earlier.
Ireland was leading the way for gender diversity at CEO level, with 14% CEOs identified as female. It was followed by the United States (12%), Singapore (11%), and Belgium and Sweden (both at 10%).
The UK had the same proportion of female CEOs in listed companies as South Africa, the Netherlands, Demark and Finland, according to the Route to the top report.
Companies in Italy, Mexico and Canada were the worst for gender diversity – none of these countries had a female CEO at a listed company.
“As the global corporate environment continues to evolve to a greater stakeholder view, a change is also happening for the CEO,” said Bonnie Gwin, vice chairman and co-managing partner of the global CEO and Board of Directors Practice at Heidrick & Struggles.
“CEOs are quickly becoming the standard-bearer for a wide-range of issues from cybersecurity, sustainability, social justice and diversity, equity and inclusion, to inspiring employees and navigating rapid digital and societal transformation. These changes are requiring a new CEO profile that brings a wide and differing range of experiences in life and business to the role.”
Globally, the share of women appointed to CEO roles had dipped to 6% in the second half of 2020, but has since risen to 13% in the first half of 2021.
Despite this increase in female appointments, women make up only 6% of CEOs globally.
The report also considers the proportion of non-native CEOs appointed to listed companies. Forty-six per cent of CEOs in the UK were originally from abroad, behind only Hong Kong (76%) and Switzerland (55%).
The average CEO is 49 years old at the time of appointment, although 25% are appointed by age 45.