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Women in C-suite positions: Or the lack of them.

Recent discussions about the importance of diversity, in particular, gender diversity in corporate environments, have become a hot topic. Yet, women are still extremely underrepresented when it comes to showcasing the top C-suite roles. In 2016 in the UK there were only 7 female bosses in the FTSE 100 and only 5 out of the FTSE 250 companies had females on the board. Women’s C-suite representation is increasing compared to previous years but at a slow rate. Yet on a positive, the UK seems to be aware of the need for change and the Davies report aims to have at least 33% of females on the FTSE boards by 2020

It can be argued that with many boards seeking C-suites to join their companies but with an underrepresentation of females at the senior level how can companies move forward and break this trend and why does it differ so much compared to the fresh graduate female influx? With this in mind we discuss some ways to improve this: 

Early Encouragement

We have to be clear on the fact that companies are in fact full of talented women whom often outnumber their male counterparts in graduation numbers and grades with over 54% of the student population being female.

However, the representation progressively drops off at every leadership position throughout businesses. In order to have a higher representation of females in C-suite roles, society could encourage females to apply to high-level business related roles fresh after university. If you look at some of the top graduate schemes the majority of applicants are males with only 47 % being female. This could be due to the risk of stereotype threat affecting female perceptions on their ability creating biases to occur. In order to solve this Businesses and universities could try and encourage females to apply to top-tier graduate roles, as the greater the influx the higher the chance of progression to C-suite and executive level.

Support Pathways

Companies could also create support programs and pathways for women as they progress throughout their career. Businesses could invest time and effort into ensuring consistent training and nurturing so that women feel confident in their ability to complete tasks and take on leadership positions with defeat and setbacks being a huge part of the game. You will also often find that after a woman is placed into her first C-suite role she will be on a board with a majority of males and therefore she needs to have confidence in her ability. Due to this, it is important for females to have a mentor who they can counsel and provide them with support throughout their career.

Equal promotion based on potential

It has recently been found that men are often promoted based on potential whereas women are promoted based on delivered results. Businesses could address this issue so that women are not left behind in their careers. You will find that there is often natural biases with leaders promoting those whose behaviour mimics their own and for male leaders, this is often reflective in their choice of promotion. Yet, in order to increase diversity before employee promotion is decided, leaders should try and identify potential in candidates that may not necessarily be similar to them.

Mid-life Career Support

Women could also benefit from mid-career guidance in order to help them to focus on the maintenance of their career throughout a period of change. It is at this stage that families and relationships become a big part of many women’s lives and you will often find that many women’s careers drop off due to other responsibilities taking the forefront. In order to keep women in business, companies need to support women through pivotal points in their career. Examples of how this can be offered for women include flexible working hours, encouraging them to return to work and offering a fair maternity leave scheme. This is essential in order to keep women in business and striving for the top. 

Millennial Intake

With the new generation of millennials beginning to take over the workforce, we have begun to see changes in the number of women coming into businesses with the potential and drive to reach the top. As these women progress in their career, businesses alike should support and encourage them; giving them constructive feedback and helping them excel throughout. Giving women opportunities to allow them to be maternal yet still excel in their career via flexible working and mentoring will allow us to finally see more females working in C-suite roles and create an equal gender representation in C-suite positions that have needed to occur for years.