One complex challenge that many organisations are grappling with today is the paucity of women in executive positions. Read more Read less

Whilst at graduate entry for male and female recruits in many organisations is reaching parity, the number of women reaching senior positions has not much changed. In FTSE 100 companies we still have only seven female CEOs and fewer than 10% of executive directors on FTSE 100 boards are women.

Key Facts

    • Organisational change required to adapt to complex, multi-layered demands needs to be addressed by means of developing collective behaviours, practices and processes and not just by enhancing the skills of certain individuals. One complex challenge that many organisations are grappling with today is the paucity of women in executive positions. Whilst at graduate entry for male and female recruits in many organisations is reaching parity, the number of women reaching senior positions has not much changed. In FTSE 100 companies we still have only seven female CEOs and fewer than 10% of executive directors on FTSE 100 boards are women.

    • Many organisations have tried to address this situation by providing development programmes for women leaders. By focusing on talented women who have ambitions to reach senior roles, the logic of these programmes is that you can address the representation issue by changing individual women’s skill set, making them more appointable or people’s mindsets through interventions such as unconscious bias training. But even Sheryl Sandburg, author of "Lean In" now admits that even when women do lean in as much as men, the career rewards are less. Instead, what is needed is change in the behaviours of women and men to transform organisations into truly inclusive enterprises where everyone's talents are recognised and rewarded. The simple ‘fix the women’ and fix mindsets approach has failed.

Impact of our research

We use the template to find ways of ‘nudging forward’ in the areas which may have the most significance but keeping the whole picture and the knock on impacts in mind. We encourage concurrent work across many areas of the template which need to work synergistically. Thus if a career and leadership programme for women is created, how will corresponding changes to organisation promotion practices be made? We precisely target the blockers and support system change. To make real difference in the numbers of women rising to executive positions requires changes to line manager decision making at all levels. Cultural assumptions need challenging. All of these actions and more need to be on the agenda to make career progression a reality: different segments of the template must link together dynamically to create a real force for change. Inclusive leadership is not simply an attitude change: it requires practical changes to everyday actions and conscious attention to the practices involved in hiring, performance managing and promoting staff in a way that results in all talents being available at executive levels.

Our article https://iedp.cld.bz/Developing-Leaders-issue-30-Summer-2018/28/ offers a case study of how we partnered with HSBC (HOST) to turn up the dials on women at the top.

Why the research was commissioned

This fundamental issue –that complex change means change the organisation not just develop the individuals - is at the heart of our approach to Inclusive Talent Management. Our approach is timely as the Hampton Alexander report to Government establishes demanding targets for the FTSE 350: 33% women on corporate boards, in executive committees (not just as non-executive directors) and in the leadership level immediately below the latter by 2020. These targets can only be achieved through addressing the leadership practices which result in overrepresentation of white men in executive echelons.

Our experience of working extensively with many organisations in all sectors has led us to develop a template which comprises of a comprehensive set of organisational interventions that will change not individuals and mind-sets but create systemic change in talent processes and practices throughout the organisation, leading to better equality in career outcomes. We help organisations become conscious of how exclusion, discrimination and disenfranchisement are built into everyday behaviours and practices. The Cranfield template for working with organisations is not a simple shopping list to pick and choose from. The elements dynamically interact. For example, support from senior leaders can be leveraged for culture change: using the template elements enables the organisation to see how to create positive loops. We also know that not doing so can create negative loops: having senior leaders championing women’s career progress, but without corresponding change in line manager and career life cycle practices, leads to cynicism and distress.