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There is still no female leadership at half of the UK’s largest companies.

According to new research, half of listed UK companies have no women in the boardroom, and more than 40% still fail to meet targets for female executive leadership.

The annual Women on Boards UK study, called the Hidden Truth About Diversity and Inclusion in the FTSE All-Share, found that half of UK businesses in the FTSE All-Share have no women in executive leadership roles.

While down slightly from 54% last year, the absence of female board members remains “shockingly high” and shows there is still “a long way to go.”

Compared to businesses in the FTSE 350 index, where only 4.6% of boards are composed solely of male executives, the proportion of male-only boards in the wider listed UK business community is significantly higher.

Looking at listed companies excluding the FTSE 350, only 7% of chief executives are women.

44% of listed companies outside of that top and second-tier have still failed to achieve their target of a third of board members being women, and a quarter of boards are still all-male or with only one woman.

However, in the FTSE 100 and 250, 79% of firms have met their gender target.

This new report follows a landmark deal agreed by the European Union to introduce mandatory quotas for companies, ensuring they have at least 40% of board seats held by women.

If businesses in the European Union fail to meet those targets, they could be fined.

Fiona Hathorn, chief executive of Women on Boards UK, said:

“The data shows small gains compared to last year, which is a positive indication that UK firms are starting to take boardroom diversity seriously.”

Hathorn added it was “incredibly disheartening” to see so many companies fail to progress in some areas, saying:

“There remains a high number of firms yet to reach even the most minimal levels of diverse representation, at both executive and non-executive level. To these firms I say, catch up – and quickly.”

Janet Barberis, managing director at global consulting firm Protiviti, which helped compile the report, said the research “has shown that there is still a long way to go in terms of achieving gender equality on boards and at the C-Suite level”.

The report also shows that three-quarters of FTSE All-Share ex-350 companies have entirely white boards, down from 84% last year.

Only 8% of executives at these businesses are from UK ethnic minority backgrounds.

Barberis said: “It is clear that diversity is good for a company’s bottom line and vital to success, and a lack of diversity is increasingly perceived as a reputational risk.

“It is therefore extremely important that promoting diversity remains a top priority for management teams, and that data on diversity is readily available and shared transparently, which is what makes these findings so important.”

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