Fifth of women think it's "impossible" to get senior roles

21 January 2015 -


One in five female workers believe that their gender stops them from reaching management positions, according to research from telecoms giant O2

Jermaine Haughton

While the proportion of female directors in the FTSE 100 has risen from 12.5% to 23% in the past four years, a new survey by telecoms giant O2 has revealed that almost a fifth (17%) of working women feel it is “impossible” for them reach senior-management roles in their companies. The report – titled Breaking the Boardroom: A guide for British businesses on how to support female leaders of the future – also found that 45% of the 2,000 women surveyed think that females don’t hold enough of the senior posts in their company, while 48% said that all the key decision makers in their firms were male.

FTSE 100 in particular are under pressure over these issues, having until the end of the year to meet Lord Davies’ deadline for achieving 25% female representation in their boardrooms. But O2’s figures suggest that UK employers of all sizes still have their work cut out to make the promotion process more even handed for both genders.

O2 HR director – and board member – Ann Pickering said: “[These] findings make for uncomfortable reading. While the diversity debate has moved on outside of the office, not enough women are actually seeing this progress at work. If we’re to achieve sustainable and long-lasting change, we can’t just look at women already at the top. We need to focus our efforts on women at every level, creating a strong pipeline of female talent across British businesses.”

However, the report shows, the lack of women at the top in the UK has not stemmed from a lack of ambition. More than a quarter (28%) of those surveyed said they dream of being chief executive one day, while 35% plan to reach board level. Nonetheless, 32% of working women reported that their careers have failed to match their expectations. Those who said their careers had met or exceeded expectations cited “luck” as the chief factor to their success, over more tangible factors such as skill, ambition or determination.

Interestingly, though, when it came to criticisms of internal barriers that have prevented women from reaching their goals, a third of respondents blamed poor line management, 22% pointed to a lack of proper training or development and 28% cited negative office politics.

Dianah Worman – public policy adviser for diversity at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development – said: “Anything that limits an organisation’s ability to appoint, promote and retain half of society’s potential leaders simply because of their gender has to be addressed. While there’s been genuine progress towards government targets to improve boardroom diversity, too much of this has been skewed towards non-executive positions. We’re calling on all parties in the forthcoming election to commit to a new voluntary target for at least 20% executive director positions in FTSE 100 firms to be filled by women by 2020.”

For further thoughts on the female career struggle, sign up to this CMI seminar Breaking Through the Glass Ceiling: Isn’t This Concept Redundant?

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