When Did The Momentum To Get Women Into The Boardroom Start?

"It is the overall wave of inclusion which has been building for decades that is fueling the progress"


One of Britain’s top businessmen, Allan Leighton, witnessed first-hand how inclusion practices change company culture. He chairs multiple boards, including the Co-op society. As a chair, he decided to advance one person of colour and one woman to the boardroom.

Leighton, however, realized that one board member who looked different to the others, who lived different experiences, could not influence anything by themselves.

One was not enough. He decided two voices would be more powerful than one.

Indeed, everything changed when one board member had someone to support them and their point of view.

Two was a breakthrough. Three transformed the company.

With three, the environment became more supportive. Executives were speaking out and increasingly confident in arguing in decision-making.

He found the key to success: different perspectives working together to reach one goal.

British companies are leading the corporate world when it comes to including women on boards. FTSE 350 businesses have a total of 40.2% representation of women at the boardroom level, equaling to 1203 positions. Though most are non-executive directorships, the momentum changes of the 2010s to get women on British boards compared to the last decade have been striking.

“UK businesses are driving greater diversity on boards – not because they should, but because they recognize the value in doing so” – Bina Mehta


Why women were excluded from boards in the early 2000s.

Let’s recall the early 2000s, when the idea of women entering the boardroom was a mere shrug of a debate. Most men refused to acknowledge the initiative, claiming that women were not fit for the boardroom. They would be “too irritating” and “aggressive,” with too many different points of view which would “stifle” cooperation and success.

Why would a woman ever choose to sit on a board? We doubt many men had ever actually asked a woman that in business.

It was a man’s world and women had to “act like men” to get to the top. In those days, there was little support for women to advance to leadership positions. Many had other responsibilities, like raising children, to stay on top of. Before the turn of the century, women were expected to be the primary caregivers in the household which affected which jobs they would have after entering the workforce.

Those who could not balance work and life responsibilities by hiring help, for example, would never make it up the corporate ladder.

Today, we are seeing businesses and government policy balance and support parenthood responsibilities among both women and men. This support definitely helps women climb the ladder!


Early allyship and advocates: the men who paved the way.

Several men stood up for the inclusion of women in the boardroom, showcasing how they bettered the overall performance of businesses.

Mervyn Davies, a business author and former trade minister, believed that radical change was needed in the mindset of the business community in terms of appointing women to boards.

Roger Carr, the chairman of an energy company in the FTSE 100, made headlines when he had a total of 5 women on a board of 15 members by 2011. He believed that women were not only hired for their experience, but for their character and values.

They both believed that women excelled in evaluating people, and demonstrated more empathy, which led to successful team cooperation and better decision-making.

Everyone felt confident enough to speak up in the boardroom.


The quota quandary: governments piled on pressure.

In the late 2000s, the corporate world was coming to grips with a new pressure to include women in the conversation of boardrooms.

Business leaders came under increasing pressure from governments with the implementation of quotas. In many countries, such as France and Norway, quotas set a benchmark which large companies had to meet in terms of how many women sat on the boards, in executive and NED positions.

In February 2011, in Germany, then-Chancellor Angela Merkel called the lack of women in top leadership positions a “scandal”.

The British government held off the introduction of quotas and allowed FTSE350 companies to rectify the situation themselves.


By the mid-2010s, the momentum to include women in boardrooms really kicked off.

The last eight years have been nothing short of extraordinary.

In 2017, the hashtag #MeToo drew a magnitude of attention to the widespread sexual assault and mistreatment of women in public spaces and workplaces. After millions of people started using the phrase, solidarity between women of all backgrounds was beginning to come together in a strong, unified voice.

The wave of the #MeToo movement coincided with the rise of celebrating successful, powerful women leaders worldwide in and out of business. The young generation started to look up to “girlbosses” and self-made women.

Women celebrated other women in response to one of the most misogynistic leaders of the twentieth century: Donald Trump.

Trump objectified, insulted, and blighted the lives of many women in the United States and around the world. Worse, he influenced young men to mistreat women.

For many women, still to this day, the words of Margaret Atwood resonate with them: “men are worried that women will laugh at them while women are worried that men will kill them.”

No wonder women started standing up for themselves.


The turn of a new decade.

In 2020, during a global pandemic which saw more women leave their jobs than men, solidarity exploded in a way that echoed the Civil Rights protests of the 1960s’.

On 5 May 2020, the world paused for 9 minutes and 29 seconds as a viral video caught the vicious and racist murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Racial equity and representation became a top priority for corporate America.


“Once America sneezes, the world catches a cold”.

Around the globe, especially in Britain, businesses rushed to hire chief diversity and inclusion officers. The push to improve ethnic representation at boardroom level was launched.

Then, in May 2022, in a decision that shook women worldwide, the Supreme Court of the United States struck down the amendment protecting women’s rights to abortions.

Just two years earlier, social media was full of protests for racial equality and Black Lives Matter, it was now home to the international solidarity of women.

Millions of women were using the phrase “sisterhood” to connect with those whose rights and autonomy were being stripped away from them.


Women on boards: the result of a wave of inclusion.

It was not a particular set of events, in isolation, that accelerated the need for more women and ethnic minorities on British boards.

It was the overall wave of inclusion which has been building for decades that is fueling this progress. This is not merely a trend in society. It was a sleeping giant.

Inclusion is finally on the cusp of a new era where it will slowly become a way of life.

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