We have reported strong financial performance and sustained our improvement in operational performance contributing towards achieving our strategic targets during 2018/19. Our 2020–25 draft business plan for UUW was awarded fast-track status in Ofwat's initial assessment. Our plan reflects our strategy of providing the best service to customers, at the lowest sustainable cost and in a responsible manner, and in accordance with our core values. Ofwat commended our plan in a number of areas, including customer engagement, affordability and vulnerability, resilience and innovation. We believe our plan demonstrates the regard the board has for our various stakeholder groups in its decision-making. Our plan is designed to promote the group's long-term success and customers' interests as well as creating value for shareholders.
During the year, we have also had our challenges. In particular, the prolonged hot and dry weather last summer, resulting in exceptional demand from customers, impacted many areas of our operations.
Our role as the board is to set the strategy of the group and ensure that management operates the business in accordance with this strategy. Details of the strategy and purpose are set out in the strategic report (see Our purpose and strategy). We believe this approach will promote the group's long-term success, our customers' interest, create value for shareholders and take account of our other stakeholders. The board's intention is to hand over the business to our successors in a better and more sustainable position for the future. Within our region, our activities often have multiple touch points on individuals' lives. United Utilities is a monopoly supplier of water and wastewater services to domestic households. Many customers are also our shareholders, either directly or indirectly holding shares through pension scheme investments. Indeed, many of our employees are also customers, shareholders and future pensioners and have an interest in the group's long-term success. As individual directors we are mindful of our statutory duty to act in the way each of us considers, in good faith, would be most likely to promote the success of the company for the benefit of its members as a whole, as set out in s172 of the Companies Act 2006 (the Act). There are times when difficult decisions must be taken requiring each of us to exercise independent judgement and apply reasonable care, skill and diligence in the decision-making process. As the board of directors, we recognise our responsibilities to our different but mainly interrelated stakeholder groups and our wider societal responsibilities. For the first time this year, we have included, as required by s414CZA of the Act, a s172(1) Statement (see Directors' report).
Our governance structure
We held eight scheduled board meetings during the year; in addition, there were a number of other board meetings held which directors attended either in person or via telephone conferencing facilities.A diagram showing the interrelationships of the various board committees can be found in the Corporate governance report and reports from each of the committee chairs about their work can be found on the following pages. The diagram also describes some of the group's principal management committees.
At 31 March 2019, we had maintained our gender target that at least 25 per cent of the board comprised of women with three out of ten directors on the board being women. The board aspires to achieve 33 per cent by 2020. Our current gender balance places us 33rd in the FTSE 100 in the '2018 Hampton Alexander Women on Boards Leadership Index'. With regards to diversity more generally, I am satisfied that we have an appropriately diverse board in terms of experience, skills and personal attributes and in terms of age and ethnicity among our board members. During the year, we have updated our board diversity policy, and included an ethnicity objective (see Nomination committee).
As directors, both individually and collectively, we have many years of experience gained across a variety of industries and regulated businesses, and so are familiar with the particular challenges of a regulated operating environment. Although there are time constraints for non-executive directors who also have an executive role, these individuals bring valuable current market experience and thinking to the board table. Similarly, we encourage our executive directors to serve as non-executive directors elsewhere to help broaden their experience, although this is normally limited to one other directorship in a company in an industry which does not conflict with United Utilities' business.
Twenty-nine per cent of our executive team is made up of women. We are keen to develop our succession pipeline of female senior managers so that, over time, they can be considered for executive board appointments or as potential candidates for non-executive directorships in other companies. Our current talent programme at a senior level is well embedded and we believe a non-executive appointment for senior managers provides an excellent opportunity for both personal and career development. It is a way of gaining valuable experience that may be applied at United Utilities so long as no conflicts of interest occur. Our graduate and apprentice programmes are thriving and we are focusing more effectively on middle/junior management succession. Our gender pay data can be found in the Nomination committee section. Historically, our industry has been male dominated, but we have measures in place to increase diversity in broad terms, including gender among our employees.
The board considered the requirement in the 2016 UK Corporate Governance Code (the Code) that the "audit committee as a whole shall have competence relevant to the sector in which the company operates". It concluded that, when taking into account the skills, knowledge, experience and professional qualifications of committee members (see the directors' biographies in Board of directors), the Code requirement was fulfilled. Furthermore, all members of the audit committee are independent non-executive directors.