Closing the gender gap in interim management

21 July 2023 Consultancy.uk 4 min. read

Recent data has suggested that in spite of gradual progress on pay disparities and the offering of more flexible work-practices, there is still a growing disparity between men and women taking senior roles in the interim management sector. Sarah Stevenson, a director at New Street Consulting Group, explains how everyone has a role to play in closing the industry’s gender gap.

As a consultancy that places hundreds of interim managers (IMs) in new roles each year, the annual Institute of Interim Management (IIM) survey offers a useful benchmarking exercise on the state of the market. This years’ report, while optimistic, illuminated several concerning new trends.

In recent years’ we have seen a steady uptick in the number of women taking interim roles – yet, during the last twelve months it appears that the percentage has stalled around the 30% mark. While some might say the slow progress is unsurprising – and indeed mirrors the picture within UK corporate more generally – it is disappointing to see progress around gender disparity halting.

Closing the gender gap in interim management

Overall, according to the latest IIM report, the percentage of men taking interim roles is significantly higher than their female counterparts at 69.3%. In certain sectors, including finance and board-level roles, the disparity is even starker. Men account for 83% of roles in accounting and finance, 75% in board positions and 70% in project management. HR is the only sector where women dominate, with 60% of roles – even then, the disparity isn’t particularly prominent.

Unfortunately, there are elements within the role of an interim that could pose challenges for women – particularly those with caring responsibilities. Positions often require periods away from home and frequently require candidates to be physically present in the workplace for a large chunk of the working week. While businesses exercised more flexibility in the wake of the pandemic, with Zoom calls well established and companies moving towards hybrid working patterns, there hasn’t yet been a correlating uptick in the number of women taking interim roles.

So, what can businesses do to attract more women into interim roles? And what can we as consultants do to help aid the shift?

Changing the tide

Flexibility is key – businesses that can allow for more freedom, particularly when it comes to location, will reduce the risk of excluding talented female leaders. We know that women excel in interim roles, bringing more empathy and helping to shape a positive culture. They build diverse teams, stoking innovation and fostering a sense of openness and creativity. In our experience, dealing with people-related challenges is a particular-strength for female leaders, including managing difficult, often political board dynamics and spearheading complex change management.

We do still find that women fail to back themselves in the same way a man would, lacking in confidence – when it comes to particularly tricky assignments, we often see women who can demonstrate that they have delivered 80% of the brief previously competing for the same role as men who can only demonstrate that they have delivered only 50% of the brief. Consultants must encourage women to put themselves forward for roles in situations where they’re lacking confidence in their own abilities, despite having the right skills and ability to thrive.

We as consultants also have a role to play not only in advocating for female leaders when acting for clients, but in ensuring that women understand what an interim management role will entail in practice – there are still a great deal of misconceptions, particularly around the level of risk. Generally, women prefer the security of a permanent role, while men are often more willing to take on the uncertainty that comes with developing a successful portfolio career.

However, this years’ IIM Survey revealed that 79% of IMs had just 3 months or less between roles, with the average falling from 3.0 to 2.6 months – the figures should offer confidence to those concerned about finding themselves without a role for any length of time. For most, the gap is short. Furthermore, sentiment around earnings has also remained very positive, with 79% forecasting earnings to either increase or stay the same during the next twelve months.

In 2008, we saw an increase in candidates looking for interim management roles and, as we traverse another challenging economic period, we are seeing a similar trend developing. As more leaders consider the possibilities offered by a portfolio career, we must all do more to increase female representation, helping to create more diverse, more successful businesses.

Headquartered in London, New Street Consulting Group is an advisory firm specialising in talent search and human resource solutions.