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Female MBA students looking to climb the corporate ladder face renewed barriers despite UK government targets, according to the annual Female FTSE Board Report by Cranfield School of Management.

An initial bout of enthusiasm for a government-commissioned report by Lord Davies, that set a target 25 per cent female membership of FTSE 100 boards by 2015, saw a sharp increase in female appointments. In September 2012, the percentage of new appointments going to women on FTSE 100 boards peaked at 44 per cent – led by Burberry, the retail company which has three women directors out of eight. On FTSE 250 boards, the percentage peaked at 36 per cent.

However, the latest update from the UK business school working with Lord Davies shows that these numbers have dropped to 26 per cent and 29 per cent respectively, requiring another call to action to reach 25 per cent women on boards by 2015.

“This is a marathon run so we need to get back to consistently appointing one third of our appointments to women,” says Susan Vinnicombe, director of the Cranfield International Centre for Women Leaders, warning companies might be becoming complacent.

The report also highlights the need for better female talent management within companies, at every level. An analysis of the career paths of 157 female executives, for example, to see whether they had been hired directly into their executive committee role from a different organisation or whether they had progressed through the organisation to that role, found that there was no obvious clear route. Internal promotions accounted for 48 per cent while 52 per cent of the women had been hired externally.

Furthermore, a comparison with a matched random sample of 157 men on executive committees found that 62 per cent of men were internally promoted compared with 38 per cent externally hired. According to the report, this suggests women find it harder to be promoted internally than men and are forced to move between companies to reach board level.

The school wants to avoid the implementation of quotas in companies, which UK business secretary Vince Cable has warned is a real possibility if the slowdown continues. There is also the possibility that the UK will miss an EU target of 40 per cent female non-executives by 2020, planned by Viviane Reding, the bloc’s justice commissioner, which would lead to sanctions.

While Cranfield is encouraging companies to take action to avoid this, advice to female MBA students is to make themselves more visible. “Get international exposure, preferably before having children,” says Ruth Sealy, deputy director of the Cranfield International Centre for Women Leaders.

“Put yourselves out there as much as possible. If you are not on the radar, you can not be guaranteed promotion.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.

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