Even as Britain’s largest companies are hiring women in executive leadership roles at the fastest pace in five years, there’s a big hurdle to cross: they are still unlikely to be in influential roles overseeing the commercial side of the business.

That’s according to a report by gender consultancy The Pipeline, which found that while women made up almost every third executive committee member in the FTSE 350 as of July 2023, they are often in so-called “functional roles.” This tends to mean they’re promoted to HR and marketing positions rather than roles with profit and loss responsibilities — which are more likely to lead to a CEO position. Male CEOs account for 91 percent in the index.

“Leaders need to examine their workplace culture and ensure that their promotion procedures are truly equitable as well as being merit-based,” said Sue O’Brien, chair of The Pipeline in a press release. “Taking care of, developing and investing in the workforce you already have is a priority.”

Although the report marks the first time the level of women in ExCo positions in the FTSE 350 broke above 30 percent, a sizable gap is also opening up between sectors, the research shows. Industries such as transport, electricity and insurance are close to gender parity at that level, while the proportion falls below 30 percent in real estate and mining. Of the two private equity companies included in the study, there were no women in such positions at all.

The data comes as voices across the City of London, in particular, are expressing frustration at the slow pace of change on gender equality in the wake of high-profile sexual harassment scandals, including allegations against hedge fund titan Crispin Odey and the Confederation of British Industry, the country’s largest business lobby group.

Parliamentarians have opened an inquiry into the state of sexism in financial services and industry watchdogs the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority are considering making companies publish data that would shine a light on whether underrepresented groups are making progress at their firms.

The Pipeline report also said that almost half of women they polled thought that workplace environment and culture were the most difficult obstacles to overcome to progress to leadership roles. About 48 percent highlighted flexibility at work and career advancement as the most important areas for leadership teams to focus on to help women rise up the corporate ladder.

“The glacial rate of progress towards gender parity demonstrated in our report is a serious cause for concern,” said O’Brien.