Why is large enterprise nonetheless failing to advertise ladies to the highest job?
GlaxoSmithKline CEO Dame Emma Walmsley is one of only eight women to run a FTSE-100 company
If you visit one of the UK’s largest companies’ websites and look at their CEO’s photos, your chances of seeing a face that isn’t male and white are almost as big as it was a decade ago. Despite efforts to diversify the boardrooms of the country’s largest corporations through research such as the Davies report in 2011 and the Hampton-Alexander report in 2016, the number of women in the CEO positions of UK leading companies has barely increased .
This was highlighted earlier this month in a report from the Cranfield School of Management, which headline finding was that only eight women hold the role of CEO in FTSE-100 companies. Although the number of women on their supervisory boards is increasing – now at 38% and thus above the target of 33% set by Hampton-Alexander – the proportion of women on executive boards remained unchanged at 13.7% in the second year.
One of the co-authors of the report is Sue Vinnicombe, Professor of Women and Leadership Strategies at Cranfield. She says: “The good news is that the number of women on the board has increased. What is not changing, however, is the pathetic number of women in the executive director positions of CEO and finance director. “
Get opportunities at the top
The role of the CEO is considered to be the culmination of a leadership career. To become one, potential candidates must demonstrate broad business experience. Vinnicombe states that this will require them to serve in a variety of roles, meaning that “the current CEO and Chairperson must identify potential candidates early on in order to help them gain that experience”.
She cites Alison Rose, CEO of the NatWest Group, as a prime example of this approach. Early in her career at the bank, where she started as a graduate in 1992, Rose was considered a high-flyer. As a result, she had the chance to fill a number of senior management positions across the company before becoming CEO.
The focus now has to be on the executive pipeline. I don’t see any point in having more gender goals
But too few women have the same opportunities, says Vinnicombe, who notes that “proportionally fewer women are promoted than men. This also applies to blacks and ethnic minorities. Talent management and succession planning need to be taken more seriously. You won’t suddenly get more female CEOs unless you develop them within the company. “
Responsibility for selecting a new CEO usually rests with the incumbent and the chairman – another position that Cranfield’s Female FTSE Board Report 2021 describes as male-dominated.
“There are a lot of prejudices,” says Vinnicombe. “The board needs to have more control over how this planning works.”
How to address diversity at the top
The CEO of PensionBee, Romi Savova, is also aware of this issue. She says, “When it comes to appointing CEOs, decisions are made by the board of directors, and most of the time boards are dominated by men. This does not create the basis for a gender-equitable handling of appointments or other strategic decisions. “
The online annuity company, which went public on the London Stock Exchange in April, has worked hard to ensure that both its board of directors and executive team have an equal number of men and women. It has also introduced a gender-equitable parental leave regulation, which gives all employees the right to six months of full salary.
Savova believes that “one of the main barriers women face in assuming leadership positions is their lack of access to adequate and affordable childcare”. Both government and business need better support for parents, she argues, adding, “Too many maternity guidelines encourage women to stay away from the office when personal and professional integration would be better.”
Societal attitudes to gender roles in childcare are an important element of the challenge to be addressed, but women who have chosen not to have children are also disadvantaged. So what still needs to change?
Fiona Daniel, founder and CEO of diversity and inclusion consultancy FD2i, says, “Companies need to begin to understand the intersectional aspect of diversity and approach it in a broader way that also includes ethnicity, sexuality and disability.”
She believes that progress has been slow because companies fail to address the root causes of this lack of diversity. She advises business leaders to review existing talent and succession systems, challenge them to determine who the process is excluding, and modify accordingly to make it more inclusive.
“You have to do more than just say you’re committed to gender diversity. This has to be followed by action, ”emphasizes Daniel.
Given the Cranfield results, is there a need for a new set of goals to improve gender diversity on boards? For Vinnicombe this seems unnecessary. “The focus now has to be on the executive pipeline. I don’t see the point in having more gender goals, ”she says.
While diversity measurements are still important, now is the time to take action to back them up.