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UK lags behind Oz in promotion of women to top jobs

By Dawn Gibson

Women make up just one in five leadership team roles in the UK, an obvious sign that not enough are being promoted to the kind of positions that lead to C-suite jobs like CEO.

The nation is lagging behind countries such as Australia, South Africa and Malaysia when it comes to giving women opportunities to rise to the top, according to a new international study examining the gender balance of key job functions of leadership teams from leading organisations across the globe.

The study, released by executive intelligence service BoardEx and executive search firm Odgers Berndtson, looked at 14,850 individual leadership roles in companies from the top indices across 26 major countries, focusing on the disciplines from which the managers and directors are drawn.

The research found women only account for 19% of leadership team roles in major markets across the globe – the UK representation is 21%, a little above the global average and on a par with the US. Australia leads the pack, with 27% female leadership teams, while Malaysia and South Africa both have 22% female leadership.

General management roles make up 44% of leadership teams but are only 11% female. Indeed, if every woman in all the leadership teams within these 26 countries moved into general management, they would still only account for 43% of these key roles.

"Women may be found in numbers in specific functions, but as a whole they still only amount for a disappointing 19% of leadership team positions," states Dominick Sutton, the Chief Data Officer of BoardEx and the author of the report.

Kester Scrope, CEO of Odgers Berndtson, says building a pipeline of leadership talent that is gender diverse is both a moral obligation and good business sense. "The best headhunters can identify diverse candidate pools to ensure clients have access to as broad a slate of people as possible,” Scrope says. “This is particularly important for the roles that most often lead to a seat at the top table and is essential for building high-performing leadership teams and cultures that have the skillset mix to stay ahead of competitors."

Nicole Sahin, Founder and CEO of Globalization Partners, says the research was a reminder of the need to prioritise equality across every aspect of an organisation, from recruitment to development: “Time and time again, reports show that organisations that have a high percentage of diversity financially outperform their competitors. Organisations that fail to live and breathe the values that deliver diversity will increasingly impair their own ability to recruit top talent.”

Agata Nowakowska, Area Vice President at Skillsoft says that, even in 2020, it was still so much more difficult for women to climb the career ladder, which was particularly evident in STEM leadership. “With persistent unconscious bias that women lack the confidence to apply for promotions or that they are simply not good enough to hold leadership positions, women have to work much harder than men to prove their ability,” Nowakowska adds.

You can read the report here.

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