Majority of women unable to raise issues with board

08 March 2023 3 min. read
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While businesses continue to verbally promote empowering women in the workplace, many are failing to support them in senior roles. A new poll from Kearney suggests that fewer than half of women in business leader roles are able to raise issues at board level.

Diversity within the boardroom has become an increasingly important issue for businesses globally, both in terms of the business case, in terms of compliance, and, increasingly, in terms of wider social trends towards inclusive practices – with female role models able to encourage other women to participate in the business world. However, a growing body of research suggests that even as they talk a good game on the matter, UK businesses are failing to match words with actions.

A new poll of 1,000 women in senior leadership roles across the UK, US and Singapore, has found that most boards remain resistant to diversity and inclusion concerns. Kearney’s survey of department managers, vice presidents, presidents and directors particularly highlighted a mismatch between the narrative of diversity and the reality of it in the UK. 

Majority of women unable to raise issues with board

Illustrating why this is such an issue, just 50% of the women polled said their organisation’s current diversity policies were having a positive impact. Half did not – and a sizeable portion of those would likely therefore struggle to bring that to the attention of their company’s board. Further to this, 42% said their firm’s policies needed to be “more ambitious”, while a meagre 39% said their organisations had provided them with a full career development plan up to, and including C-suite level.

As a result, the ability of women to ascend through the ranks of UK companies seems to still have been hamstrung. While 95% of respondents optimistically believed the future CEO of their firm would be a woman, only one of the 1,000 people questioned said that was already the case.

Ramyani Basu, Partner at Kearney commented, “It is worrying that the tools, processes and organisational mindset are not yet in place to turn aspiration into reality. We need to see organisations get underway with real, practical steps to ensure that the promises of greater diversity and inclusion are actually realised. This means implementing long-term strategies with measurable targets. With 38% of companies not having publicly stated targets around DEI, this is an area that clearly needs to be addressed imminently. Let’s remember that ambition is not enough, optimism is not enough and box-ticking is not enough – we need real actions quicker.”

The findings may also re-open the discussion around the need for government intervention. While the UK’s government has favoured ‘nudging’ firms to improve boardroom inclusion, while ultimately leaving it to the market to decide how it does so, other countries have seen much quicker uptake due to state interventions, boosting the number of women in senior business roles.

For example, since 2011, the Copé Zimmermann law in France has compelled listed companies and non-listed companies with revenues or total of assets over €50 million to reach a minimum of 40% of women on their boards within a six-year period. In some sectors like financial services, that has been surpassed, with the number of women in board rooms hitting 44%. Meanwhile, in Italy in 2008, only 44% of listed companies had at least one woman on their board. In 2011, a law was passed envisaging mandatory quotas. Now, Italy leads Europe on women in board positions – at 47%.