Nearly one in four chief executives appointed last year were female with the fashion sector leading the way in diversity.

The number of female chiefs appointed to the helm of retailers surged to 24% in 2018 compared to just 6% in the previous year, according to the Korn Ferry’s chief executive tracker report.

All but one of the female retail chief executives appointed last year were in the fashion, apparel and gifting sectors – with the exception of Kari Daniels from Tesco Ireland.

Helen Wright, Liz Evans and Barrie Seidenberg had all previously held chief executive positions whereas the remaining seven women were appointed to the role from either a managing director role or a functioning role in commercial or buying and merchandising.

Korn Ferry retail managing director Sarah Lim said:The research undertaken in previous years highlighted a concerning lack of gender diversity at the top of retail organisations.

“Over the past two years, there has been increasing public, media and shareholder pressure on retailers to address this issue, and it’s gratifying to see signs of positive action.

“Fashion, apparel and related subsectors have been the obvious winners, attracting more women into the CEO seat. Entry-level and mid-management roles have always been highly female dominated, but historically this has not led to equal female representation on the board.

“While it takes sustained positive action to readdress the balance, it is commendable that we’re now starting to see early signs of a reversal in this trend.”

In total, fashion retailers accounted for the highest number (55%) of new boardroom appointments.

Overall, there was a decrease of all retail chief executives appointed in 2018 – just 44 compared to 50 the previous year.

Lim said: “Brexit uncertainty, industry transformation and rising sector costs” are to blame for shareholders not wanting to change leadership unless absolutely necessary.