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Why are there so few women in executive roles?-
By: Mairi Eastwood

March 2012

Following the Davies report the encouraging development in the debate about women  is that the focus has switched from the numbers of women on boards to how to improve the pipeline of executive women. This prompted us to analyse the non confidential data from our coaching of women over the last 12 months – a cohort of 120 senior females out of a total of 450 executives’.

Stepping into a new leadership role was the most common reason for organisations to sponsor both their senior men and women for coaching (59% women; 46% men). But a further 40% of senior men came because they were being given support with their aspirations to reach executive level.  Fewer than 10% of women were sponsored for this reason. Are women not asking and/or companies not noticing?  

Our analyses also showed that for nearly 60% of women at this level confidence was still an issue, which may provide some clues. Also there is a fine line for women between being seen as ‘too soft’ or ‘over aggressive’.  The sponsors of more than a quarter of women (27%) who were coached said they were over-aggressive – though most of the women strongly disputed this label.  And six out of ten of these senior women lack confidence in their talents, even though they have demonstrated them by reaching the boardroom or just below. 

Mairi Eastwood, co-founder and partner at Praesta who led the research, said:  “Many chief executives are extremely frustrated that, despite numerous initiatives, they can’t seem to persuade enough women to apply for senior roles.  Our coaching and the report hold some of the stories as to what is holding women back – and what chief executives need to do to overcome these blocks.”

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