Female leaders still must achieve more than men: study

A new report released today suggests the path to senior roles for women remains harder than it is for men.Its findings suggest the academic bar is set far higher for female leaders than male leaders in the FTSE 100.

Cambridge University bridges
Green Park’s The Leadership 10k study reviewed the top 10,000 jobs in the FTSE 100 by gender and ethno-cultural diversity. The executive search and interim management company then analysed the educational background of all serving board members.

Females outshine fellow directors in educational attainment

Women leaders in the UK’s biggest firms are three times more likely than male counterparts to have degrees from either Russell Group or Ivy League universities.A little over three-quarters (76%) of total employees in top 20 positions across the FTSE 100 who graduated from a Russell Group university are female. Similarly, 70 per cent of leaders who graduated from an Ivy League university are female.Overall, this means that women are three times more likely to need a qualification from a prestigious university to gain a board position in the UK than men, suggests Green Park.

Decline in executive directorships

Green Park’s findings further identify that FTSE 100 companies’ initiatives to boost the number of female non-executive directors continues to show noticeable results.However, there is a further decline in the number of female executive directors in a board position – a critical factor in creating sustainable female talent pipelines, particularly in highly specialised and regulated sectors.Across the FTSE 100, 35 per cent of non-executive directors are women compared to 10 per cent of executive directors. By sector, utilities remains the most female friendly sector.

A sectoral view

Examining the diversity of the top 20 positions of each of the FTSE 100 organisations, utilities remains the most female friendly sector with significant growth in the number of senior female employees (32.9%).Technology, engineering, consumer goods, construction and property, media and natural resources have also all shown significant improvements.For the second consecutive year, however, the health sector has seen a decline in the number of senior female employees at this level.

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The way forward for women at work

Overall, the study suggests while there is progress, the bar remains higher for women than it does for men, perhaps addressing some concerns around quotas and diversity and inclusion initiatives undermining meritocracy.The findings also come less than a week after International Women's Day urged employers and individuals to be bold for change.Commenting on the figures, Antonia Belcher, founding partner of MHBC LLP, an independent building consultancy, said: “It’s vital for FTSE 100 companies as our largest, most successful businesses to recognise that it’s vital for them to address the diversity agenda.“Whether that concerns gender, LGBT+, race or any minority, recognising the problem is just the beginning: a complete change in attitude is needed for anyone running a business in the 21st century.”Raj Tulsiani, co-founder and CEO of Green Park, added that the progress made in recent years and reflected in the study is “encouraging.” However, further improvement is needed: “The fact that the vast majority of leaders with an education from Russell Group or Ivy League universities were women shows that female leaders need to achieve more than men before they even start their careers. We must work harder to improve holistic gender equality in business.”Labour life peer, Rt Hon. Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, also commented: “I welcome Green Park’s ambitious analysis of the top 10,000 jobs in the FTSE 100. The fact that successful female leaders need to aim higher academically than men to secure senior roles further highlights the need for increased attention in educational profiling and gender equality in business.“There’s a long way to go before there is a truly level playing field for men and women in business and it’s important for the UK’s largest companies to recognise that they may be missing out on strong leaders by putting such focus on university hierarchy.”

Look out for the upcoming spring issue of Relocate magazine, which features the latest on what companies are doing to improve their talent pipelines, including using the insights from workforce data analytics. Reserve your copy here.

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