FTSE Russell Insights

How the FTSE 100 has become less male

As we celebrate the FTSE100 Index's 40th birthday, we bring you fresh insights and intelligence from our market experts.

Norbert Van Veldhuizen

Head of Equity Index Product, EMEA

Males no longer dominate the boards of directors of companies in the UK’s best-known share index, nor the exchange on which those companies’ shares are traded.

  • Market jolt with BT Sale: we highlight the impact of the BT share sale on the FTSE 100, causing a surge in BT shares and windfalls for citizens. and examine the debate on FTSE 100 index inclusion rules and the subsequent changes to mitigate IPO-related volatility.
  • Gender evolution in Trading: we reflect on the historical absence of women from the London Stock Exchange floor during the BT share sale and chronicles the transformation since 1973 when female brokers and jobbers were first accepted, contrasting it with the present where women hold 40% of leadership positions at LSEG.
  • FTSE 100's Gender Equality Milestone: we celebrates the profound change in business practices, noting that 40% of leadership roles at LSEG are now held by women.

40% female representation on FTSE 100 boards

Last year females took up more than two of every five board seats in the FTSE 100 index for the first time, up from only one in eight board seats in 2011. The FTSE 250 index reached the same threshold.

This meant that FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 businesses had achieved a 40 percent share of women leaders three years ahead of a (voluntary) 2025 target.

Number of FTSE 100 female directorships

Chart displays the number of female directors at FTSE 100 companies has more than quintupled since researchers first started compiling the data in 1999.

Source: Cranfield FTSE Board Reports, 2005-2022

The excitement of 3 December 1984

But even these statistics understate the extent to which financial market and business practices on gender have evolved since the FTSE 100 was launched in 1984.

To see why, let’s go back to a major early event for the FTSE 100, the privatisation of British Telecom (now BT and still an index member) on 3 December that year. 

The government was selling half of its shares in BT and around two million UK citizens had applied to buy them.

On the day the shares were listed, early activity was frenetic. Dealers swarmed the BT booth on the London Stock Exchange (LSE) floor to buy the company’s shares (this was still a time when LSE share deals were struck face-to-face between brokers and jobbers).

By the end of 3 December, BT shares had risen by a third from their initial offer price of 130p, a startling first-day performance for a large company.

The excitement surrounding the sale helped spark interest in several more UK privatisations, a key policy of then UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher. By the time she was forced from office in 1990, more than 40 UK state-owned businesses had been sold to the public.

Index effect of the BT sale

As a side-note, the jump in BT shares on 3 December meant an immediate windfall for those lucky UK citizens who had received shares in the public sale.

But it created a headache for those institutional investors who hadn’t received a full allocation. Instead, they had to buy shares in the secondary market at a higher price. 

There was a debate about whether BT shares should have been included in the FTSE 100 index at the initial offering price and at full market capitalisation, as they were at the time. 

Now, to mitigate the possible volatility surrounding initial public offerings, the FTSE 100 index rules specify that fast entry for large companies occurs after the close of business on the fifth day of trading. We also now only include the ‘free float’ - shares freely available for trading - in the index, rather than the full market capitalisation.

An absence of women 

But what stands out from contemporary reports of the BT share sale is the almost complete absence of women from the London Stock Exchange floor.

[In a recent Financial Times article you can see some photos of the all-male crowd at the Exchange on the day BT was privatised—some wearing BT telecom engineers’ hard hats to celebrate the share sale.]

The lack of female presence wasn’t surprising: it was only a decade earlier that women had been allowed into the Exchange building on Threadneedle street at all, unless they were cleaners or secretaries.

The Exchange’s council—its governing body—put the matter to a vote among its members unsuccessfully several times before the LSE finally accepted female brokers and jobbers on March 26, 1973.  

Some of the die-hards gave unusual reasons for their opposition to female share dealers.

“One man complained that if his wife came to the viewing gallery and saw him talking to attractive women, he’d be in trouble when he got home,” Durham university professor Ranald Michie wrote in ‘The London Stock Exchange: A History’, published in 1999.

Two of the first female members of the London Stock Exchange trading floor (photographed in March 2023 with LSE CEO Julia Hoggett)

Two of the first female members of the London Stock Exchange trading floor (photographed in March 2023 with LSE CEO Julia Hoggett)

A step change in business practices

Since then, there’s been a step change in business practices.

40 percent of leadership positions at the London Stock Exchange Group (LSEG) are now held by women. This includes both the chief executives of the London Stock Exchange (the capital formation venue of the Group—Julia Hoggett) and FTSE Russell, LSEG’s index business (Fiona Bassett). 

Forty years after its launch in 1984, the FTSE 100 continues to fulfil its initial goal: tracking the performance of the largest UK companies and providing a snapshot of equity market sentiment. But nothing has changed so much at the index’s members as the role of women.

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