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Why there are fewer women executives
t has been a debate carrying on for decades but evidence suggests that far fewer women progress to top jobs than men. The so-called glass ceiling is still alive and well...
A recent survey of 3,000 members of the Institute of Leadership and Management revealed 73 per cent felt barriers still existed for women in senor management and board-level positions. And a European Commission report found women make up just 14 per cent of board members of the largest listed companies in Europe.
As ever, the question is: why? It’s an issue a new BBC TV programme, Hilary Devey’s Women At The Top, broadcast next month, addresses.
Four women from Oxfordshire have taken part after the programme-makers got in touch with Oxford-based recruitment consultant Sue Rees. She brought in three clients aged between 30 and 60 to reflect on their experience.
The women were presented with two differently worded job adverts for a chief operating officer and asked to choose which one would appeal to them and why.
Ms Rees explained: “One of the reasons why women are not getting to the top is because the job adverts are very male-oriented in the way they are written.”
The wording of one of the adverts did not appeal to qualified accountant Loretta Thompson who is in her 50s and has filled a number of senior positions in large firms including European financial controller at Reflexite on Oxford Business Park.
She explained: “I am at the stage where I don’t want that pressure. I want a job I can enjoy where I am appreciated.”
But the same description did attract financial director Sarah Appleby who is in her 30s.
Ms Thompson explained: “Sarah is ambitious and driven with no children looking for a long-term career. It really depends on circumstances and personalities.
“When I am job-seeking I am now looking at the people I am going to be working with more than what I am actually going to be doing. Work should be manageable and give you job satisfaction.”
In the 1980s the main problems with women’s career progression related to sexism in many industries with women clearly discriminated against. But now the picture is not so clear.
Ms Rees also felt Ms Appleby would be the person to put forward for such a high-pressure role. She said: “When I source candidates I look for those with the right personality more than anything,” she said.
Of course the past 30 years has seen a raft of legislation such as increased maternity rights which have helped women juggle the demands of having a family.
And Ms Rees believes that quality standards such as Investors in People have made firms much more people focused. As a result, recruitment is more about the person rather than their sex. “At the end of the day it is about getting the right person for the job,” she concluded.
But still women are not progressing and very often it seems to be because of the desire to start a family which often sees a change in priorities. And once they are back in the workplace, they are playing catch-up.
Ms Rees said: “Women have children in their 30s and 40s and then come back desperate to get back into a career. That is when we get ‘value for money’ candidates. These people will come in for a £20,000 job to gain experience.”
Meanwhile, Monica Douglas, who is also featured in the programme, is in her 40s and has two children. An accountant, she has three-part-time jobs to give her the flexibility she needs.
Business psychologist Binna Kandola, a director at the Oxford-based Pearn Kandola consultancy, was also asked to contribute to the two-part programme and offers an alternative view. He believes there is an often unconscious gender bias in the workplace and, controversially, it applies to both men and women.
He said: “We assume it is men who have a bias toward men for leadership positions but women have almost the same bias and also prefer men. It is a harsh truth.
“There is no doubt things have changed over the past 30 years but now we need to look at ourselves and where we have prejudices and biases.”
Contact: Sue Rees Associates 01865 292141