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The Alchemy of Leadership Blog

How do you get more senior female leaders?


There was an interesting piece in this weekend’s Sunday Times which once again, bemoaned the fact that there were too few women in the most senior roles in organisations.  A mere 9.7% of executives on FTSE-100 boards are women according to a report due to be released by Cranfield School of Management later this week. When you look at the total percentage of female representation on FTSE-100 boards, it increased to 29%, which is approaching the target set by the Hampton-Alexander review but only because the female non-executive director percentage grew to an all-time high of 35.4%.

The situation is worse when you look outside of the FTSE-100 where in the FTSE-250, the number of female executive directors fell from 38 to 30 between October 2017 and June 2018 while the overall percentage of women on these boards was only 23.7%.

The issue therefore is that there are too few senior women in executive positions who have the potential to transition to executive roles – the pipeline of talented women in organisations simply isn’t full enough ... or is that nonsense?

We have now been running our Runway  programme for over 4 years at the School for CEOs.  The programme is specifically aimed at those who are one or two levels below an Executive committee in an organisation or in the talent population of a business.  This is exactly the population of individuals who should be making their way into these critical roles on Executive committees and providing boards and teams with a greater gender balance.

Our numbers tell a different story, because around 45% of our alumni are women – and the sample size is approaching 300. At one level below the so called ‘C-Suite’ the mix favours men and the ratio is 61% men to 39% women, but go down the organisation a level further and the ratio flips in favour of the women – 51% to 49%.

So it is not that there isn’t a pipeline of women in organisations. Instead, we believe it is more about providing them with the appropriate support and development to help them make those difficult transitions to the top.  This is what the Runway programme does and we have more and more evidence to demonstrate that this works – women (and men) are being promoted into bigger and more responsible jobs having attended the programme.  Of course, they were already on this upward trajectory, but we feel we have played a part in their progress!

Our next All-Female Runway programme takes place in September in London and we shall be running our first All-Female programme in Edinburgh in November.  We have some special ‘early bird’ discounted places available for Edinburgh. Click here  to find out more.

Please note, this article was written by David Sole OBE, and first published on LinkedIn

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