Despite the fact that there is a big focus on women on boards, despite the fact that open discrimination against women is on the decline, despite the fact that a new generation has a different perspective, it is still a sad fact that things are not improving.
However, the IBR 2012 survey shows that just 21% of senior management roles are held by women globally, figure which has barely moved over the past decade. Moreover, just 9% of businesses have a female CEO

Why does it matter?

Well apart from the moral and non discriminatory arguments there is an equally big business argument

Businesses that have a higher proportion of women on boards and in senior positions outperform competitors in terms of return on capital (66% higher), returns on equity (53% higher), and sales (42% higher).

It also reduces the businesses chance of going under.

Whilst the % of women on boards in FTSE 100 companies has slightly increased to 15%, FTSE 350 reports just 10% and 40% of those companies have all men boards.

The picture is not much better in terms of women in senior management – at 21%, which depending which survey you read has either not changed or gone down 1% from 10 years ago.

Why is this happening? Its not all about children and childcare. It is true to say that in countries with the highest proportion of families living together – SE Asia – where grandparents expect to look after grandchildren so that mothers can go back to work, they also have the highest proportion of women in senior management (32%).

However, that is not the whole story – because the proportion of the workforce that is female is 64% – so women in general do not have a problem going back to work.

A recent McKinsey survey showed one big and very worrying reason why women do not get senior management positions.

Given 2 candidates of equal merit going for a role, one male and one female McKinsey found this very interesting fact (they sat in lots of interviews so got to observe what was happening). The conversations after would go something like this.

Jim – good lad – done great work. He has made a couple of mistakes over the last 12 months but we think he has the potential – so lets give him the opportunity.

Jane – good girl – done great work. She has made a couple of mistakes over the last 12 months, so maybe she’s not quite ready this time.

You see, what they discovered is that men are judged on their potential and women on their results.

That is quite scary. The people doing this are not conscious that they are doing this. And how do you change behaviours when the people concerned are genuinely not aware of what they are doing?

This has happened to me in a previous life – and as a result I left the company. I’m not being boastful to say that they did not want to lose me and I was not the only female top performer they lost probably for very similar reasons.

So what can we do about it?

Well, as individual women it is important to have total confidence in ourselves (or fake it). We need to stop believing we need to be perfect.

I was recently speaking to a CEO of one of the worlds largest technology companies. He was talking about his two children – one boy, one girl. On leaving Uni, the conversations with their Dad went something like this.

Boy – Dad I’m thinking of applying for this job. I only hit 2 of 3 of the criteria but I know I can do it. He applied. He got the job.

Girl – Dad I really fancy this job but I am not applying for it because I only hit 8 of the 10 criteria.

So ladies – stop trying to be perfect. Men don’t try – or maybe they do – but they don’t let it stop them if they are not. Women are almost paralysed by the thought of not being perfect or letting someone else down. We really need to get better at this.

I am not one for quotas. However. Russia has the highest proportion of senior women – over 40%. There is ONE reason for this. During communism – the philosophy of the country meant that women had to be promoted solely on merit.

Maybe we need to introduce short term quotas to break this subconscious cycle that has got no better in the last 10 years.