Female leadership race to the top

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Last week saw the resignation of the first ever FTSE 100 female CEO, Dame Marjorie Scardino of Pearson. Such an announcement gives pause for reflection. How much have things actually changed since Scardino came to the helm of Pearson 15 years ago?

We now have three female CEOs remaining in the FTSE 100 companies and there are a lot of senior women on their way up. The three remaining women are Angela Ahrendts of Burberry, Alison Cooper of Imperial Tobacco, and Cynthia Carroll of Anglo American. Things are looking better than they did 15 years ago but progress has been slower than some may have anticipated. Dame Scardino herself said (Evening Standard, 9 October 2012), “I thought…that by the time I left Pearson, things would be different in terms of number of chief executives or chairman or board members who are women… It’s not too different, and for that, I’m sorry.”

This all the same week as the government is thinking of not backing the quotas for women – UK spearheads opposition to European commission proposal to ensure 40% of non-executive board seats are filled by women.

There has been progress and many more opportunities for flexible working than in the days of Scardino but the glass ceiling is still there. Someone may argue that the reason women haven’t progressed faster is due to the choices they make to balance out work with family life. However, that argument no longer applies to just women as men are adjusting their ambitions too in order to spend more time with their families. Anthony Thompson (the former managing director of the George brand of Asda) recently moved to become the CEO of Fat Face. One of the reasons for the move was so he could go running on the beach and have dinner with his family.  In his own words (Guardian, 15 September 2012), “My priorities at the minute are spending time with my family and friends.”

We all have different expectations today compared with our parents’ generation. But how will our children’s generation fare in the race to the top? It would be a great achievement if leadership was something that we would not even need to discuss in light of male vs. females differences… but somehow I suspect the pace of change in our society is slower than that.

Hanna – London



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