female CEO
Out of 350 leading companies in the UK, just one in five boasted a female CEO. NELSON ALMEIDA/AFP

A new Pipeline Gender Count report shows that in just one in five of the UK's largest firms, women are trusted with making strategic and business decisions in commercial and senior roles.

The gender parity report was produced by The Pipeline, a team of leading female entrepreneurs.

The study, which analysed 350 UK companies listed in the Financial Times Stock Exchange (FTSE), exposed Britain's largest businesses for having "blind spots" and for operating at "various levels of consciousness" in regard to promoting senior female staff.

According to Pipeline, while there has been an increasing amount of advocacy for female representation in leading companies, "the report reveals nuances that cannot be overlooked".

While focusing the analysis on 100 FTSE companies, Pipeline found that just 13 per cent of the boards had a senior female employee.

Women in leading positions within the listed companies were more likely to hold "functional" positions, instead of working in commercial roles – linked to being in charge of finances and loss-making functions.

"A mere nine per cent of FTSE350 companies boast a female CEO," the team of leading female entrepreneurs noted.

Although the new data demonstrates a four per cent increase in female representation across the FTSE350 since 2019, the 2023 study found that for every female CEO in the FTSE 100, there were three male CEOs.

Pipeline warned that the slight progress demonstrates a "glacial" pace surrounding the promotion of women in top boardroom roles.

"The glacial rate of progress towards gender parity demonstrated in our report is a serious cause for concern," recognised Sue O'Brien, the Chair of The Pipeline.

O'Brien added: "Businesses must not shy away from some of these uncomfortable truths: leaders need to examine their workplace culture and ensure that their promotion procedures are truly equitable as well as being merit-based. Taking care of, developing and investing in the workforce you already have is a priority."

For those who have achieved senior roles, businesses have been giving women additional tasks on top of a hefty workload without placing the same expectation on its male employees – according to the study.

The extra workload has been dubbed a "woman tax" by the Pipeline report.

Prof Geeta Nargund, the Chief and Founder of CREATE Fertility, an organisation that provides "female-friendly IVF treatment that delivers better health outcomes for mothers and babies", wrote the foreword to Pipeline's Women Count report.

"One of the conclusions that is inescapable from the data is that women count, but men count more," she said.

In regard to the lack of female employees generating a career as a CEO within one of the listed companies, Nargund said: "Those women are not on track to get a CEO appointment... Companies need to have a quality pipeline of female talent at every level of the organisation."

There were large differences found in the transport, health, electricity, utilities and insurance sectors, which each demonstrated an influx of female employees making up senior roles.

The Pipeline investigation also found that, in the finance sector, despite women making up almost 50 per cent of qualified accountants, just 18 per cent of the FTSE350 companies had a female CFO.

In these fields, women represented more than 40 per cent of executive leadership roles – according to the report.

In sectors that are dominated by masculinity stereotypes, including mining and automobiles, less than 10 per cent of those working in commercial and leading roles, were women.

Across the several companies within the private equity field, there was no female senior representation.

Nargund declared that exposing companies for their lack of movement towards gender parity is important, because "any business that doesn't have a broad gender balance in their leadership cadres is one that won't focus enough on the very specific issues faced by women at work".