A government-backed review has today expanded its call to increase the number of women at the top of companies, by urging all FTSE 350 firms to fill a third of their senior roles below board level with women.
To meet that target, at least 40 per cent of appointments to senior positions over the next three years will need to be women.
A year on from the Hampton-Alexander review, chaired by Sir Philip Hampton and the late Dame Helen Alexander, an update has found that FTSE 100 companies are on track to meet the target of having one third of board positions held by women by 2020, if they continue to meet progress made over the past three years.
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Business minister Margot James said the challenge was an opportunity "to make the UK a world leader on this important issue".
The number of women on company boards has more than doubled since 2011 when it was just 12.5 per cent, with figures out today revealing nearly 28 per cent of board positions are held by women.
The number of all-male FTSE 350 company boards has also dropped dramatically over that period - from 152 down to eight.
But, Hampton said today that firms need to ramp up the pace of change, extending the 33 per cent target to senior leadership positions of all FTSE 350 companies. Prior to today's update, that voluntary target just applied to FTSE 100 firms.
He said some of the UK's largest companies have made "significant progress towards meeting these challenging targets".
We should be seeing all FTSE companies now making strides to improve the gender balance at the top.
This year we have seen progress pick up on FTSE 100 boards and go slow elsewhere.
We must now renew commitment to this important issue for UK business to fully harness the under-utilised potential of the many talented women in the workplace.
Lady Barbara Judge, chairman of the Institute of Directors, said the substantial rise in number of female director appointments in the past few years proved "there always were plenty of talented women out there just waiting to be given the chance to show they belonged in the board room".
"The next challenge is to create a step-change in the proportion of senior executive positions held by women. In this way, we can build a pipeline of female talent to consolidate and built on the improvements we have seen in the last few years," she added.