Women in Leadership: How Far Have We Come?

According to McKinsey’s Delivering through Diversity report, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive team are 21% more likely to have above-average profitability than those in the fourth quartile.[1]

Yet according to new research from packaging retailer RAJA, gender parity in the workplace – particularly when it comes to leadership positions – is far from won. By looking at official data across the decade, they have found that businesses are still failing to utilise the benefits that women can bring to executive roles.

Women make up over 50% of the population in the UK, but the number of women in leadership positions is hugely disproportionate to this figure. And, further to this, its progress over the last decade has been slow. The Office for National Statistics’ annual population survey shows that, in 2010, only 34% of managerial, directorial or senior official positions were occupied by women. A decade on, figures up to 2018 demonstrate only a 1 percentage point increase at 35%.

A sector breakdown

This data was broken down into sectors stated by the ONS, which included the following industries:

  • Agriculture and Fishing
  • Energy and Water
  • Manufacturing
  • Construction
  • Distribution
  • Hotels and Restaurants
  • Transport and Communication
  • Banking, Finance and Insurance
  • Public Admin, Education and Health

In half of these sectors, less than a quarter of leaders were female. In fact, the sectors with the lowest number of female leaders were Construction (16%), Energy and Water (19%), and Transportation and Communication (24%).

The most positive change has been in Agriculture and Fishing, which went from 15% to 29% – almost doubling across the decade. And the worst? Transport and Communication, which has gone from 25% to 24% since 2010 making it the only sector that has actually declined. The only sector that has more women than men in leadership roles was Public Amin, Education and Health at 57%.

Overall, though the study shows that all but one sectors have had an increase in women in leadership positions, the numbers tell a different story. They have shifted only marginally over the decade, and there is still low representation in both traditionally female-dominated sectors and ­male-dominated sectors.

Tips to improving workplace equality

Though it is clear there is progress being made, there is still so much work to be done.

A recent review of FTSE leaders showered that within the FTSE 100, two thirds of all available leadership positions were occupied by men. In fact, as of 2019, only seven of those CEOs were female, further showing that the fight for women’s equality in the workplace is far from over yet.

Here are some ways that all companies can beat the bias and benefit from the many advantages that females can bring to leadership roles.

Always be transparent

Being transparent about your diversity status and the steps you’re taking will show potential candidates – or current employees – that you’re taking strides towards progress. This includes having realistic goals that tie in with those of individuals and teams, rather than meeting certain criteria for the simple sake of compliance.

Recruit from the inside

Your best female leaders may already be in your company. With the right support and mentorship, you can make sure you nurture their talent and give them access to the tools they need to thrive in a leadership role.

Eliminate unconscious bias

A history of workplace prejudice has created stereotypes we may not even know we are being influenced by. By ensuring processes are subjective – such as applications, reviews and promotions –you can stop unconscious bias from becoming an obstacle within leadership roles.

Embrace modernity

By implementing flexible hours and more fluid ways of working within your company, you can cater to a variety of different lifestyles – whether that’s working parents or perhaps those who live remotely. Ultimately, initiatives or ‘perks’ like this can attract a whole range of valuable candidates.

For the full report, take a look at Beating the Bias – Women in Leadership.