Women in Leadership: Is your name John?

Trish Burridge, Director, Consulting Services, EMEA, at Skillsoft

business woman in boardroomHistorically, the battle for women to successfully break through the glass ceiling and be viewed as equals in the workplace has been long and fierce, but now there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel.

As we look to the future, we’ll definitely begin to see an increase of women in leadership positions across the globe. With the economy now almost back at the same level as before the financial crash and considerable influence from role-models such as Angela Merkel, Hilary Clinton and Karren Brady, the opportunity for women to obtain roles in leadership positions has never been greater.

The recent discussions around women in leadership have been brought to the fore by the Davies report, which highlighted that there are now more woman on FTSE 350 boards than ever, with 550 women having been appointed over the past four years. In addition, the report indicated that the era of the male dominated boardroom was officially over, announcing that there were no longer any FTSE 100 companies with an all-male board.

Now whilst this all seems like smooth sailing, we still need to put everything into perspective. It should be noted that although organisations are heading in the right direction with the appointment

of more women in leadership positions, the reality of the situation is that in 2015, there are still more men called John running FTSE 100 companies than all of the female bosses combined. This is a sobering statistic and one that stresses the size of the task ahead. The Davies report also went on to indicate that by 2020, 33 percent of board members at FTSE 350 firms should contain women. However, in order to achieve this target, organisations need to ensure they are doing enough to help women advance into these leadership positions.

The recent Women in the Workplace report by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey, found that for many different reasons, women are simply less likely than men to advance in the workplace. The report goes on to illustrate that women experience an uneven playing field, with their odds of advancement lower at every level and also underlines the persistent leadership gap in the most senior roles. Alongside this, recent research conducted by Skillsoft, drew attention to the distinct lack of career advancement support for women across the globe. With almost 70 percent of the female participants stating that they believed their employers currently do not provide adequate resources and support to aid career progression.

So this begs the question, are businesses missing a trick here by not delivering the resources to help women advance their careers? Credit Suisse seem to think so, with a report from the company highlighting that organisations that have more women representing management tend to perform better, a testament to their vision and strength.

In order to tap into the skills that female leaders bring to the table, businesses need to acknowledge the key factors inhibiting their progression – with the biggest stumbling block of all being work-life balance. Competing priorities play a huge role here and often reduce the amount of time women have to enhance their skills and develop into the leaders of the future.

In order to overcome the challenges facing women today, it’s imperative that businesses take the time to invest resources and money into human capital management. There is no quick fix solution here, change has to begin at a cultural level. Businesses need to first cultivate an environment free of the stigma and gender-based challenges that women face on a daily basis. Only then can organisations truly work towards providing equal learning and development opportunities that enable the advancement of women into leadership positions.

By recognising these barriers, and designing learning and development programmes that provide women with greater flexibility, organisations will ensure that women are better equipped to continue their journey into management. This allows women across the workforce to build competencies and acquire skills when it best suits them and reach their full potential.

The struggle for women to have their voices heard, not only in boardrooms but in the broader range of senior management roles, across the world continues and the lack of women in leadership positions still speaks volumes about the existing gender disparity in the corporate environment. However, slowly but surely the tide is beginning to turn with more businesses willing to invest in learning and development programmes in order to overcome the gender gap. Change will not occur overnight, but in the right environment and with the right tools, there might just be a few more women in the boardroom by 2020.

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