The lack of women in senior roles in UK corporates is not just a women’s issue

Advanced Boardroom Excellence, leading advisers in developing individual and collective director effectiveness, has today published a research report on diversity, with a focus on female talent in organisations.

The Report looks at this diversity agenda through the eyes of 70 successful women leaders and provides an insight into the extraordinary waste of female talent being overlooked.

Two of the strongest messages from the research are that this is a talent management and business issue, not a “women’s issue” and it cannot be solved by women alone or by just “helping women” fit the corporate world better.

The sample of highly successful women offer thoughts and advice for the next generation and believe that organisational cultures, structures and practices have to change to create working environments that value different leadership styles, where women and men want to stay and compete for top jobs. Get this right and the resolution of wider diversity issues should follow.

The Diversity Report proposes an Agenda for Change which sets out recommendations for organisations, its leaders and women that will help drive change.

Helen Pitcher, Chairman of Advanced Boardroom Excellence, said:

“It is blatantly ridiculous – and must be recognised as such – that with male and female working populations that are broadly numerically equal, women are still a minority group by the time they reach the most senior levels of organisations.

“Unless we change the corporate executive pipeline to become more diverse, a sufficient supply of new candidates won’t be available for executive committees, or, by extension, for boards. Our challenge to boards is that they should take on the same accountability, responsibility and engagement for the diversity of the executive pipeline as they have been forced to adopt for the board itself.”

Summary of Findings and Agenda for Change

Below are some of the key insights from the report which were highlighted by the participants:

  • A business issue - this is a talent management and business issue, not a “women’s issue” and cannot be solved by women alone, or by just “helping women” fit the corporate world better.

  • Commitment from the top - to achieve the change required, it is vital that there is proper commitment from the top of organisations, otherwise the project is bound to stall.

  • Flexible attitudes - line managers on the ground need to think and act more creatively. A broader range of career structures, wider definitions of success and an open mind about what is needed for a particular role are some of the factors raised.

  • Unconscious bias – there is an issue of unconscious bias when talking about organisations and attitudes. Indeed some experts believe this is one of the main reasons we have made so little progress in achieving better gender balance at the top of organisations, despite decades of trying.

  • Male and female styles of management - while acknowledging that there are always exceptions, it is believed that men and women generally have different leadership styles, language and often place value on different things at work.

  • Women tell their stories differently - there is a definite gender difference in how men and women talk about careers and success. Women frequently attribute their own success to luck and opportunity with many being surprised by where they ended up.

  • Self-promotion, networking, sponsors and mentors - self-promotion and internal politics seem to be a problem for many women who often feel excluded from informal networks in the office, a significant barrier for many women.

  • The confidence gap - women with long and successful careers, with undoubted technical expertise and proven leadership skills, all spoke of a confidence gap in relation to themselves or female managers they know.

  • Women and Money - generally women are particularly bad at negotiating salary. Some interviewees admitted they had never asked for a pay rise.

  • The question of quotas - the contentious subject of quotas elicited a wide range of views, 52% of our interviewees are against, whilst 32% are in favour.

  • Self-help and getting ahead - it is believed that the most important skills required to get ahead are networking, team-building, tenacity, resilience, strategic thinking and strong communication skills.

Agenda for Change

Key recommendations put forward are:

For Organisations

  • Gender balance in the workplace should not be seen as a “women’s issue” but a business issue that will drive productivity

  • Changes that address gender balance will ultimately help organisations manage everyone better, and create true meritocracies

  • Boards should lead by taking an active interest in the executive pipeline, and whether it is being fed from the full range of the organisation’s available talent.

For Leaders of Organisational Change

  • Men and women talk differently about themselves and their careers. A better awareness of this can remove hidden barriers to women’s advancement

  • The language of challenge and success is different for women

  • Women may undersell themselves, not because of a lack of confidence or self-esteem, but because their view of communication and self-promotion is different.

For Individual Women and Minority Groups (and anyone else who wants to reach the top)

  • Be proactive in managing your career – seek out CV-building roles and assignments

  • Find mentors and sponsors who will improve your confidence and your profile

  • Cultivate resilience.

The full Diversity Report can be downloaded at

Follow the conversation online using #womenleadership


For enquiries please contact:

Jackie White, Advanced Boardroom Excellence

M: 07958 720107


Nadja Vetter/Lauren Foster, Cardew Group

T: 020 7930 0777

Notes to Editors

About the Research

  • The research involved interviewing 70 women, mostly from the private sector and with a bias towards financial services.

  • The majority of the sample (49) are in executive positions. Of these, 31 are in functional roles, such as HR, law or communications. Fifteen have roles in operations, strategy and finance and three are chief executives. The remaining 19 have non-executive portfolios, including six chair positions

About Advanced Boardroom Excellence

  • Advanced Boardroom Excellence is a board effectiveness consultancy dedicated to individual and collective director effectiveness. The organisation is passionate about the development and improvement of boardroom standards, behaviour and ethics.

  • Advanced Boardroom Excellence’s experience in leading business and supporting chairmen, CEO’s and directors is underpinned by continuous research.

  • Advanced Boardroom Excellence is led by Helen Pitcher, supported by an experienced team who have worked together for more than 20 years.