Why women don’t reach the top

Pick an AIM company at random and the chances of the CEO being female are roughly 50-1.

It’s easy to get complacent about equality of opportunity, but a statistic like this – 28 female chief execs out of 1,400 companies – reminds us how unlikely it is for women to reach the top of the corporate ladder (or indeed float a company they founded themselves).

In this context, it’s telling that one of the 28 female-led companies, recruiter Healthcare Locums, was founded by a woman who was awarded an estimated £2.2 million in an out-of-court settlement for sex discrimination and unfair dismissal from her previous company, which was also listed.

To be fair, Kate Bleasdale says the testosterone-fuelled culture of the City is changing for the better, but evidently that change is yet to be reflected in the gender make-up of boardrooms. You wonder how many potential Kate Bleasdales have missed out on their chance of taking the top job – and how much talent has been underused or wasted, to the detriment of the City and the economy as a whole.

But we can’t blame the City entirely for a problem which is much more complicated. Julie Meyer, one of the two investors in the BBC’s online version of Dragons’ Den and founder of venture firm Ariadne Capital, says that more needs to be done, through parenting and education, to develop girls’ self-confidence and persuade them that they too can make it in the world of business.

There’s a lot of sense in this. After all, you can’t have more female directors and CEOs if more women don’t put themselves forward for those roles, or acquire the necessary experience to master them. Until you address the supply as well as the demand side of the equation, it doesn’t matter how many Equality Acts you pass.

Happily, this is not a zero sum game – men don’t have to lose out for women to succeed. If we were better, as a country, at recognising and fostering entrepreneurial characteristics in women as well as men, the rewards would be stronger economic growth, more great business success stories and a more even balance in the nation’s boardrooms.

Nick Britton

Nick Britton

Nick was the Managing Editor for growthbusiness.co.uk when it was owned by Vitesse Media, before moving on to become Head of Investment Group and Editor at What Investment and thence to Head of Intermediary...

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