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Viviane Reding, EU Justice Commissioner, is now canvassing public support for an increase in women leaders in Europe - a move she hopes will become global. However, research published by UNC Kenan-Flagler business school in the US this week reveals that the development of women leaders within companies is usually not on the strategic agenda. The school surveyed men and women in senior leadership roles in the US, Brazil, China and India, nearly half of whom confirmed this to be the case.

The majority of the 925 respondents also felt their organisation had no initiatives in place to help develop women leaders and few plans in starting such activities within the next 12 months.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, more women (50 per cent) than men (30 per cent) noted the lack of support. There was also a correlation between the position a person held and the answers they gave: the more senior the respondents, the more likely they were to give their company higher marks.

There was a positive trend, however, in the number of women holding senior leadership positions, though even this was viewed with caution. While 40 per cent of respondents believe the number will increase over the next five years, 28 per cent believe it will stay the same and 30 per cent are not sure either way.

Overall, the research shows companies are creating organisational climates that only offer moderate assistance in the development of women leaders. Over one third of respondents indicated that their companies ‘moderately encourage’ the development of women leaders, compared to 28 per cent who said this was done to a ‘small extent’ and 22 per cent who saw it done to a ‘great extent.’

“Business leaders should test perceptions within their own firms and address any gaps,” said Mindy Storrie, director of leadership and development at UNC Kenan-Flagler. “Review and evaluate the effectiveness of your firm’s leadership development and retention programmes. Are you attracting, promoting and retaining the best?”


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