Why do women find it harder to get to the C-Suite?

Fiona Hathorn, Managing Director Women on Boards UK,  May 2018

There are multiple reasons why women, BAME and minority men struggle not only to get promoted but even to get interviewed for vital ‘stretch’ jobs. For starters, they don’t usually look like the incumbent leaders, which sadly means they are less likely to get interviewed than the male candidates who are often younger version of the existing leaders. 

Research shows that minorities are in general more collaborative in style, and as a consequence they answer interview questions sounding more like managers rather than like leaders. It is not that we don't want collabative individuals as leaders but the language of leaders is slightly different from the language of managers. Further, they often have less ‘inside information’ on the position than the 'old school' male candidates, which means that it is much harder for minorities to get promoted.   

Today, most progressive organisations want leaders who make effective business decisions in a purposeful but collaborative way, bringing the whole organisation with them, especially in challenging times.

Research also shows that women and minorities need to feel competent before they are confident enough to apply for stretch jobs; they have been brought up to be this way, which means they often don’t apply for positions unless encouraged. Whereas 'old school' boys have been brought up in general to just give it a go, take the risks and hope it works. That is not to say that women/minorities are not risk takers, because they are, and research has recently proved that they take better risk adjusted decisions because they tend to analyse first before they pile in. 

As the pace of globalisation and technological change increases, organisations need leaders with the skills and knowledge to deal with tougher and less predictable competitive environments. 

There is plenty of evidence showing that companies investing in their talent ensure that future senior executives have what it takes to make it to the top. Their leaders are confident, and managers step up to challenges knowing they will be supported in their new positions. Companies who invest in supporting their talent tend to outperform their competitors, are more innovative - and also more profitable. Plus, what a surprise, these companies also tend to have more women and minorities at the top.

Sadly, even today most firms don’t invest in potential leaders and those companies that do invest in their emerging leaders tend to, we know, only send men. Harvard, LBS and INSEAD have completed research on the number of applications for their highly prized MBA programmes and women account for less than 20% of applicants. Interestingly, most of their female, BAME and minority male applicants are self-funded whereas the 'old school' male applicants tend to have been sponsored by their company.  It is such a shame that minorities don’t get selected for those crucial leadership courses, because it means they know less as regards current best practice in terms of what helps one lead diverse teams collaboratively. And by not attending, they are also less connected and less supported. Being at the top of organisations is lonely and having peer support and/or an executive mentor helps reduce your chances of failure. 

As a consequence, at WOB we’ve decided to do something about the situation as it stands, that I’ve outlined above. We have put together a “Getting to the C-Suite” Leadership Programme that  looks at best practice in relation to what matters; strategic thinking, change management, effective leadership and collaborative leadership.

Minorities and women, we know, often fail to take on, or to be promoted into stretch jobs because they have an unwarranted lack of confidence and, as stated above, they frequently have less information about what a senior role entails than others. This means that when they are interviewed, they lack the leadership language to win promotion, even when their actual skills and capabilities make them the best candidate for the job.
To ensure the success of our leadership programme, we have put together a leadership development team, to not only design the programme but also deliver it as leaders not trainers. The course which we have designed is time efficient, which we know is what women like, and is made up of 6 half day sessions + mentoring sessions.

Our leadership course partners are UGM Consulting (UGM) and Broadreach, who have put together what we believe is one of the best leadership courses available in the UK, because it includes a practical grasp of strategy and thinking strategically, managing change, executive level leading and managing skills, and the ability to solve problems collaboratively to deliver on organisational goals and purpose.

So get in touch if you want to know more and or want to know the answers to these questions;

•    What kind of executive development program will best support your current or future management or board executives? 
•    Why do some individuals progress in their careers and some don’t, despite similar entry qualifications? 
•    Is our business truly inclusive, or does the senior team need support to enable them to understand how diverse teams can deliver superior outcomes? 
•    Would you like your leaders to better understand the language of executive leadership and management and best-practice thinking? 
•    Is there a tool-kit that you or your leaders can use for leading effectively, successfully overseeing change programs and leading collaborative strategic reviews and strategy development?  
•    Do you or our leaders fully understand how to influence and engage with their team’s fears, emotions, and diverse abilities? 
•    Can you nudge your executives to work together more collaboratively, focusing on the best outcomes for the business rather than a more siloed approach? 
•    Would you like an executive development programme that delivers tangible and immediate benefits without being prohibitively expensive or taking executives out of the business for lengthy periods?  

We have one ‘Getting to the C-Suite’ leadership programme starting in September of 2018 and another one in January 2019. For module dates and more information on the programme please click on this link and or listen to one or both of these Youtube clips;


•    30 minute webinar clip which discusses the programme and each module in detail =>  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kbBbupL1s1A&t=1s

Getting to the C-Suite Testimonials

 “Pragmatic & useful, some great tools particularly liked the "Reverse Brain Storming" UBS
“Relevant to most organisations & likely to provoke useful thought & actions in current role” Farfetch
“Very relevant, very insightful with some excellent tools particularly the SCQA model” Virgin Money
“Informative, useful and very helpful suggestions given to improve myself” PwC 
“Makes you reflect on factors affecting decision making, including the importance of your own assumptions” TD Direct
“Doing the C-Suite course helped me to realise that I do have a voice and that I can use it to lead.PwC