New CEOs more likely to be women

However, global representation of women at the helm of a company remains low

Newly appointed CEOs in the large, listed companies UK are more likely to be women than in the past, indicating progress has been made on making more diverse and inclusive appointments, research has found.

Executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles carried out their annual Route to the Top survey, analysing the profiles of 1,095 CEOs at the largest publicly listed companies across 24 markets including Australia, Brazil, China, Germany, Italy, Mexico, UAE, UK and the US.

The results found global representation of women CEOS was still low, but the number of women gaining new CEO roles is increasing.

For example, only 8% of UK CEOs are women, however the share of newly appointed women CEOs more than doubled to 13% around the world over the first half of this year, compared to the last six months of 2020 (6%).

Kit Bingham, partner in Heidrick & Struggles’ London office and head of the UK board practice,

commented on the findings: “While the absolute number of women CEOs both in the UK and around the world remains far too low, the findings suggest progress has been made and a positive trend towards more progressive and inclusive appointments.”

Ireland had the highest number of female CEOs at 14%, followed by Singapore at 11%, the US at 12% and Sweden at 10%. At the other end of the scale, Canada, Italy and Mexico had no women CEOs at all.

From a sector perspective, 10% of all banks’ CEOs were women, and for ‘other finance’ it was 4%. Chemicals had the highest representation of women CEOs at 13%, while manufacturing and companies that fell into the category ‘other’ had zero women at the helm of their companies.

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The report also identified a number of other trends in the appointment of new CEOs at a time where there were a record number of CEO appointments in the first six months of 2021; after a period of increased external appointments the balance has shifted to promoting an internal candidate, and more new CEOs have C-suite experience beyond the traditional CFO and COO roles, including roles such as chief risk officer, chief strategy officer, and chief technology officer.

Furthermore, more CEOs were being recruited from overseas locations, particularly in the UK and Europe. Nearly half of UK CEOs are from overseas, while the overall number for companies around the world is 30% are non-nationals.

Bingham added: “New CEOs appointed over the past year in the UK differ significantly from CEOs they have replaced. The new breed of CEOs are more likely than their predecessors to be women, to be non-nationals, to have cross-border experience and to have advanced degrees.”


Natalie Kenway

Natalie is global head of ESG insight for ESG Clarity and has been an investment journalist for 16 years. She won Editor of the Year at the Aviva Investors Sustainability Media Awards 2021, and was Winner...