Global, local surveys highlight barriers to female leadership

A greater number of women may sit on the boards of Financial Times Stock Exchange 100 companies, but that does not mean women are achieving seniority.

The 2017 Female FTSE Report, conducted by Cranfield School of Management and Exeter University Business School, found more women than ever, 33 percent, fill non-executive positions on the FTSE 100. Executive directorships held by women remain low, however, at less than 10 percent.

Just six women hold chair positions, 14 hold senior independent directorships and 6 are CEOs, the report indicated.

On the FTSE 250, women fair worse with just 7.7 percent filling executive directorship roles and only 10 women serving as CEO.

While the data shows marked improvement over the past decade, it also shows a continued divide between male and female leadership, explained Professor Sue Vinnicombe of the Cranfield School of Management.

“So back in 2007, only 15 percent of non-executive directorships on FTSE 100 boards were held by women. The good news is, in 2017 that percentage has jumped to 33 percent, which I think is really excellent news and shows how well companies have been paying attention to gender diversity on their boards,” she said in a prepared video.

“But I think the rather disappointing news, again hidden in our trend analysis, is that whereas a large percentage of the male non-executive directors hold senior positions, and by that I mean senior independent director or chairman of their board, very few women do.”

Cayman’s perspective

While the Female FTSE Report provides insight into global trends, it also echoes concerns in individual jurisdictions.

In the Cayman Islands, little data exists on workforce gender diversity, but an independent group of professionals, sponsored by several Cayman companies, is working to address the topic.

The initiative committee recently released its first “Gender Diversity in the Cayman Islands” report, based on survey results taken in 2017 from approximately 600 people, 20 percent of which were men.

While the initial findings indicated notable frustration by working women, they also pointed to strong female ambition in the Cayman Islands, said committee volunteer Roxanne Lorimer.

“Roughly speaking, more females in senior positions are running companies here (than globally). But again it depends on the sample. Our sample came mainly from government and from the accounting and financial industries, and law firms. We did try to get samples from across sectors but those were the main samples,” Lorimer said.

The data, analyzed by a third party in the United States, show a gap between women and men seeking promotions and those who actually receive them.

“Over the last year, more men have been successful (in obtaining promotions) relative to females. When asked whether males or females had applied for promotions over the past 12 months, they said yes at similar proportions,” Lorimer said, adding that future surveys will allow stronger analysis on this topic.

The gap in the Cayman Islands does not appear to arise due to lack of female interest in senior positions, said fellow project volunteer, Louise Reed.

“Something that is slightly different from global (statistics) is that men and women are applying for promotions at the same rate here. When you look at most global stats, that’s not the case at all,” Reed said.

When asked whether they had applied for a promotion within the last 12 months, 14 percent of women responded yes, compared to 15 percent of men.

In contrast, 39 percent women who applied for promotions in the past year indicated they were successful, compared to 56 percent of men. For promotions over the past five years, success rates vary. The project committee said this will be another area of interest to follow in successive surveys.

“We don’t have the stats to show how we’re performing year-on-year because there haven’t really been these kinds of surveys before. You can see globally though, things aren’t really changing much regardless of initiative,” Reed said.

One issue may be lack of communication between management and female staff regarding employment opportunities. The survey results suggest men and women hear about promotions in different ways.

While 31 percent of men reported hearing about promotions from senior leadership, only 4 percent of women said the same. Additionally, 23 percent of men reported learning of promotions from a line manager, compared to 16 percent of women.

Women were most likely to hear about an opportunity for promotion from an internal posting, at 27 percent. In contrast, 23 percent of men learned of promotions this way.

One possible solution may be providing mentorship and relatable role models in senior management for female workers.

“Often managers don’t know where employees want to go and they make assumptions. Having people processes that are quite clear in this regard, I think, would make a difference and force, in a good way, conversations with ambitious people on where they want to go and how companies can support them,” Lorimer said.

“My interest is the talent pipeline. We want a really healthy talent pipeline so we have good leaders running organizations and running parts of society. I’d like to see more equality in that pipeline.”

The call for greater mentorship reflects the suggestions of the Female FTSE Report. Based on a series of in-depth interviews with board evaluators, the report emphasized the importance of gender diversity on boards and the significant role chairs play in promoting such diversity.

“There’s now a critical mass of chairmen who really get it, who really understand this is a case about leveraging your best talent. This is the most effective way of reaching your marketplace. But that’s still not the case for every chairman and every leader,” Vinnicombe said.

The Cayman Islands survey group will be working in coming months to drive conversation about female leadership and gender policies in the workplace.

“This isn’t just a woman’s issue. It’s a societal issue and equally a business issue. There is a lot of global data to show the impact it has on business. We’re trying to encourage those discussions,” Reed said.

The group is currently planning next steps and working to integrate more project participants.