Magazine article Management Today

Companies Should Ditch Their Macho Outlook and Do More to Make Top Jobs Appealing to High-Flying Women

Magazine article Management Today

Companies Should Ditch Their Macho Outlook and Do More to Make Top Jobs Appealing to High-Flying Women

Article excerpt

Why are women dropping out of corporate life so much younger than men? That was the question I found myself asking recently when I was looking at the CVs of prospective candidates for non-executive directorships.

I have conducted many similar searches as a member of the nominations committee during my time on boards in the UK, US and Europe. But on this occasion I was struck by two significant differences.

The first was that we were presented with a 50/50 selection of men and women. While this was a welcome new development, I suppose it was to be expected: most reputable headhunters have signed up to the Voluntary Code for Executive Search Firms, recommended in Lord Davies' 2011 report on gender diversity in the boardroom, which suggests that long lists of candidates should include at least 30% women. Kudos to Spencer Stuart for exceeding this.

What was more interesting was that the women were, on average, around seven to 10 years younger than the male candidates and so were, generally, somewhat less senior.

And while most of the men were seeking a single NED appointment to complement their full-time executive jobs, many of the women were planning to move out of full-time corporate life into a portfolio career, with a variety of roles in charitable, arts, public and private organisations. Some were planning to start their own company; others wanted to do community work.

None of them specified family commitments as a reason for stepping off the corporate ladder. They all dismissed this, saying that they had successfully balanced work and home life during their early careers when their children were young; those difficult years were now long past.

No, the overwhelming impression I got was that they had looked upwards and seen a sea of tired, grey-suited men above them and decided they just didn't want to join them.

These highly qualified, dynamic women, many of whom had 'potential CEO successor' written into their appraisals, didn't want their boss's job. The attractions of the C-suite, as the Americans call it, just didn't appeal.

Everyone accepts that gender diversity benefits senior executive teams. We are awash with facts and figures about how it brings about superior performance, higher share prices, bottom-line increases and all manner of good things. We know that women are emerging in higher numbers and better qualified from universities and professional bodies. We also know that most organisations have made significant efforts to recruit men and women in roughly equal numbers and have brought in more flexible job patterns to help women cope with work/life balance issues. …

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