Leadership For The Future


Diversity: Putting women at the top

It seems appropriate in a month when we celebrated International Women’s Day (8 March) that Cranfield School of Management’s latest figures show that women directors in the UK FTSE 100 companies have risen from 12% to 15.6% within a year.  This is still well below the target recommended in the Davies’ report which called for at least 25% of women directors by 2015.

This month also saw McKinsey and Company release their research “Achieving the Promise for Women” which looks at women in leadership. They found that despite 90% of Europe’s leading companies having programmes in place to increase the number of women in top jobs only 8% of companies have more than 25% of women in senior management roles.

So does it matter whether or not organisations have women in top leadership positions?  Well, according to McKinsey’s research the short answer is “yes”.  Their research with over 300 companies carried out between 2006 and 2010 showed that those organisations which had women in senior management roles performed better against financial and operational criteria compared with those companies which had no women in senior management.  The research also showed that organisations which had at least three women in senior management roles scored higher against criteria relating to organisational health.

In order to promote organisational performance you need diverse leadership behaviours.  For, example research shows that men tend to take risks more readily and have an individual decision-making style whereas women tend to have better people skills and prefer a collaborative decision- making style.  McKinsey and Company argue that you need both.

Their research also showed that you need chief executive and senior management commitment, to know where the blockages are in your pipeline of women coming through the succession planning process and to tackle the resistant mind sets, which incidentally McKinsey found to be more common among middle managers.  Their beliefs included that, in their view, some roles were not suitable for women and that if a woman were to fail it would set back the agenda for promoting women into leadership in their organisation.

McKinsey and Company are optimistic that things will change but that what is required now is a step change to achieve a critical mass of women in leadership positions happens now so that subsequent generations of women are better equipped and developed to lead successfully in the future. In the words of one of McKinsey’s women directors   “It’s got to happen . . .”

So what are the blockages in your organisation to more women successfully leading as part of your senior management team . . . ?

Further Reading:

McKinsey and Company:  Achieving the Promise for Women – March 2012


The Davies’ Report:  Women on Boards – February 2011