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2020 UK Spencer Stuart Board Index

2020 Snapshot

 46 %

of non-execs are women

 13 %

of executive directors are women

 14 %

of new non-execs are black, Asian or minority ethnic

 57 %

of first-time directors are women


boards comprise 50% or more women

Ethnic diversity

8.3% (122) of all board directors are identified as black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME), maintaining a gradual upward trend since we started tracking ethnic diversity in 2016 (5%). However, while the proportion of BAME non-executives has increased to 9.6% (104), it has halved among executive directors in the past four years (from 5.1% in 2016 to 2.6% in 2020).

Fewer than one-third of all BAME directors are UK nationals and 78% have a tenure of three years or less.

14.3% (24) of new non-executives are BAME, compared with 7.7% in 2016. Of these, 46% (11) are women and 71% (17) are non-nationals (primarily from North America, South Africa and India).

One company has a BAME remuneration committee chair, one has a BAME audit committee chair and two have a BAME nomination committee chair.

Seven CEOs are identified as BAME. All of these are men and two are non-UK nationals.

We recognise that the acronym BAME is not a perfect descriptor.

Our perspective

Despite growing calls for greater BAME representation on boards, this year’s figures suggest mixed progress on ethnic diversity in the UK. Despite perceptions in the UK that the issue of racial injustice is one predominantly emanating from across the Atlantic, UK companies trail their US counterparts when it comes to ethnic diversity in the boardroom. The 2020 US Spencer Stuart Board Index shows that minority directors represent 20% of all directors at the top 200 S&P 500 companies, with 10% of companies led by minority CEOs, compared with a figure of 4.5% in the UK.

Spencer Stuart has signed up to Change the Race Ratio — a campaign launched in October 2020 to increase racial and ethnic participation in British businesses.

Women directors

The steady progression towards gender diversity continues with women now occupying 34% (496) of board roles in the top 150 companies (vs 30% in 2019). Among non-executives, 46% (444) are women; by contrast, just 13% of executive directors are women (42 out of 342). 54% (23) of these are CFOs and 19% (8) are CEOs.

Ninety-two companies in our sample (62%) had reached the Hampton-Alexander Review target of 33% women on the board by our cut-off date, a significant increase from 42% in 2019. That still leaves 58 companies (38%) falling short of the target. Antofagasta, Bunzl, Primary Health Properties and Network International Holdings have fewer than 20% women on their boards.

Ten boards achieved gender parity at our cut-off date, compared with just three in 2019. Rightmove, Games Workshop Group, Rentokil Initial, Auto Trader Group, Softcat, Assura, CRH, M&G, Severn Trent had boards comprising 50% women — 56% in the case of Taylor Wimpey.

Severn Trent is the only company to have a female chair and female CEO. Croda International, Hargreaves Lansdown and Imperial Brands have women in both chair and SID roles. There were eight female CEOs at our cut-off date, compared with five in 2019. The new female CEOs are at Direct Line Insurance Group, RBS and Trainline (a new FTSE 150 constituent).

Among executive directors, 13% are women — that is, 42 out of 342 executive directors on the boards of the top 150 companies. This is a 13% increase over 2019. 54% (23) of female executive directors are CFOs and 19% (8) are CEOs.

33% (14) of female executive directors have a non-executive role elsewhere, compared with 24% (72) of male executives.

Since our cut-off, one woman has left the board of Taylor Wimpey, and new appointments at Diageo and Severn Trent mean that 56% of their directors are women.

Women in board roles, 2010–2020
Our perspective

UK listed company boards entered the Covid-19 crisis significantly more diverse than they did the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. Back in 2008, just 10% of board directors were women, compared with 34% in April 2020. ‘Women in the City’, a 2010 report issued by the Treasury Select Committee, said the small proportion of women at the top “may have heightened the problems of ‘group think’ and made effective challenge and scrutiny of executive decisions less effective.” The fact that 46% of all non-executives were women at the start of the Covid-19 crisis may have had a positive impact on the way management handled the unique combination of health, social and financial challenges presented to them.

Gender diversity on FTSE 100 executive committees


of ExCo members are women: by contrast 46% of all NEDs are women.


of ExCos have two or more female members


of ExCos are all-male (9.6%. in 2019)


of women on ExCos are in HR roles


companies have four or more women on their ExCo (vs 12 in 2019)


of all ExCo members fall into the BAME category

The executive committee (ExCo) remains an important source of potential new non-executive directors for quoted companies. However, women have joined ExCos at a far slower pace than they have joined boards as non-executive directors.

In 2020, women held just 23% (174) of ExCo positions, compared with 46% of non-executive directorships. (At our cut-off date, 79 FTSE 100 companies disclosed their ExCo membership.)

Roles of women on executive committees in the FTSE 100
Women in leadership: FTSE 100 companies (%)
Our perspective

With women holding just 22% of executive committee (ExCo) roles, companies have a lot of work to do before they reach the target set by the Hampton-Alexander Review of 33% women among ExCos and their direct reports. A short-term fix may be to look outside the organisation for talented female executives to increase diversity at the top table. In order to make sustainable improvements, however, leaders must focus on creating genuinely inclusive workplaces that not only attract diverse talent but keep them motivated and believing that they can fulfil their potential without having to leave the organisation. The board has the luxury of taking a long-term view; it needs to keep an eagle eye on management’s commitment to creating an inclusive and diverse workforce and understand what programmes are in place to ensure that talent can flourish wherever it is located in the business, regardless of gender, ethnicity, age, education or background. Targets need to be set, outcomes measured, and some part of executive remuneration linked to the results.

Women Leaders: How We Got Here

From sponsorship to P&L opportunities, C-level women share the factors that contributed to their success

Solving the Disappearing Women Problem

Lessons from companies that prioritize diversity

Foreign directors

We define foreign directors as having a nationality that differs from that of the company. On this basis, foreign directors account for 30% (471) of all board members.

79% (119) of FTSE 150 boards have at least one foreign board member, compared with 84% in 2019.

As in 2019, five company boards have more than 80% foreign directors (Polymetal International, Network International Holdings, IWG, Coca-Cola HBC and Hikma Pharmaceuticals).

63% (929) of board members are UK nationals and 4% (61) have dual nationality.

19% (30) of boards have foreign chairs and 30% (45) have foreign CEOs

Origin of non-UK nationals — all directors

Breadth of diversity in the boardroom

While boardroom diversity cannot be captured exclusively by quantitative measures, there are hallmark indicators that can be used to highlight boardrooms where the greatest diversity is evident. The table below year shows the most diverse boards in terms of gender, nationality, ethnicity and age.

Ten companies have now reached parity between men and women in the boardroom. In 2019 there were just three.

Boardroom diversity — top 5 companies in the FTSE 150

Most women
  1. Taylor Wimpey (55.6%)
  2. CRH (50%, 5)
  3. Rentokil Initial (50%, 4)
  4. Rightmove, Auto Trader Group, Softcat, M&G and Severn Trent (50%, 3)
  5. Games Workshop Group and Assura (50%, 2)
Most non-nationals
  1. Network International Holdings (87.5%)
  2. IWG (85.7%)
  3. Coca-Cola HBC (84.6%)
  4. Hikma Pharmaceuticals (81.8%)
  5. Glencore and Polymetal (77.8%)
Most BAME directors
  1. Unilever and Standard Chartered (33.3%)
  2. HSBC Holdings (30.8%)
  3. Tate & Lyle (30%)
  4. Reckitt Benckiser and Hikma Pharmaceuticals (27.3%)
  5. Rightmove (25%)
Most directors under 50
  1. Rightmove and Auto Trader Group (50%)
  2. Unite Group (44.4%)
  3. Just Eat, Kaz Minerals and Ashtead Group (37.5%)
  4. Softcat, Games Workshop Group, Assura (33.3%)
  5. Dunelm Group (30.8%)