Female leaders aged 55+ best at wicked transformations

31 July 2015 Consultancy.uk 3 min. read

Strategic thinking is sometimes needed to help businesses deal with the most wickedly difficult issues, such as transforming to meet radically disruptive challenges. However, as a recent PwC report highlights, only 8% of thinkers in leadership positions exhibit strategic capabilities. The study finds that women over 55 are better suited than men to enact the kind of transformations considered ‘wickedly’ difficult. As only 18% of executive positions are filled by women in the European region, the kinds of thinkers required may be structurally ruled out.  

In a recently released PwC report, titled ‘The hidden talent: Ten ways to identify and retain transformational leaders’, the consulting firm explores the kinds of leaders required to tackle the wickedly difficult issues. As a result of disruptive technology and whole new business models, the kinds of thinkers needed to cut through the ‘Gordian Knot’ may not be those that are better suited to attending to business as usual.

Tame, Critical and Wicked problems

According to the report, the performers needed to deal with what sometimes become questions of survival are strategists. These kinds of thinkers exhibit a combination of global vision with detailed understanding of both the business and the way in which the environment is changing. This understanding allows them to formulate the moves to get through the tangled web toward the kinds of transformations required for the business to flourish.

The research finds however that only a tiny proportion of professionals have the capabilities to lead these kinds of transformational changes, with the irony that these kinds of professions are often structurally (and institutionally) discriminated against. According to PwC, the group in which the requisite skills are to be found in highest abundance are women over 55.

Of the leaders studied, female leaders are more likely to be strategic in their thinking, at 10% vs. 7% for men, while those aged 55 plus have a more keen strategic insight, at 14%. Male leaders tend to be achievers (goal and target oriented) – thus better suited for management.

The percentage of male and female leaders

Lack of female leaders
Research by Mercer shows that women are the least likely to land high level positions. Internationally, women represent only 19% of executive roles, in Europe/Oceania the number falls even back to 18%. A consequence is that only 8% of the 6,000 professionals analysed for their capabilities in Europe showed the kinds of strategic leadership skills required to help their business grow.

Commenting on the survey, Mark Dawson, Partner in PwC’s People and Change practice, says: “Industries including retail, banking and healthcare have wicked problems knocking on their doors right now. How successfully they deal with these will largely depend on how well they can harness and retain Strategist leadership talent within their ranks.”

David Lancefield, PwC’s Strategy and Economics partner, adds: “Strategist leaders can fill the aspiration gap CEOs refer to when it comes to transformation. But the way many companies attract, retain and empower them requires an overhaul. Businesses must work hard to attract and retain Strategists because they hold the keys to transformation and, in some cases, survival.”