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The financial sector in the UK is lagging behind some of its European peers in terms of appointing women to senior roles, according to data from the latest EY European Financial Services Boardroom Monitor. 

EY’s tracking of appointments within the UK’s largest financial services companies revealed a decline of 28 percentage points in the appointment of female board directors year on year in 2023. Just 33 per cent of all appointments last year were female directors, a sharp drop from 61 per cent in 2022. European financial boardrooms as a whole also experienced a downward trend, but to a much lesser degree, at seven percentage points. 

As of the end of 2023, the UK’s 33 per cent lagged behind other major European markets. France led with 64 per cent of female board directors appointments, followed by Germany at 54 per cent, Italy at 46 per cent and Switzerland at 43 per cent. 

Additional figures revealed that 16 per cent of UK financial services board directors left their role in 2023, with new appointments lagging departures at 13 per cent. 

Commenting on the data, Anna Anthony, EY UK financial services managing partner, said: “While annual fluctuations in the make-up of boardrooms are to be expected, a decline in the number of UK female director appointments of this magnitude is concerning. 

“Tougher reporting requirements on gender diversity, requiring firms to comply or explain their current diversity metrics, are clearly not yet driving the necessary change at pace.”

While all the UK financial services companies monitored by EY have some female representation at the boardroom level, 26 per cent of UK listed financial companies had no women in senior board positions, such as chair, CEO, CFO or senior independent director, and 21 per cent of UK listed financial companies still report having less than 40 per cent women on their boards. In this respect, however, the UK remains ahead of its European counterparts overall, where 31 per cent of boards across countries still report less than 40 per cent women. 

According to the Financial Conduct Authority’s rules on diversity and inclusion for company boards, which came into force in April 2022, the target level of female representation is 40 per cent. The FCA enforces this target on a “comply or explain” basis, requiring at least one of the most senior board positions to be held by a woman.

The EU’s European Women on Boards Directive requires all companies in member states to reach a 40 per cent target for the underrepresented gender in non-executive board positions or 33 per cent for all board roles by 2026.

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