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The pipeline to the boardroom must open up to women

Research suggests women still find the route to the top of companies paved with obstacles. That’s why 1LV is tackling the lack of a healthy talent pipeline early in careers, with a focus on the ‘sticky middle’

Women are still unlikely to land the top corporate jobs. That’s the gloomy – but not entirely unexpected – main finding from research by the 25x25 initiative. The reason is simple; there is a lack of women in positions from which FTSE 100 chief executives are typically recruited.


According to 25x25’s CEO Tara Cemlyn-Jones: ‘If no woman is getting through to a senior decision-making position, this suggests a structural or cultural issue.’


The research from 25x25 – which was founded to tackle the lack of female senior executives in the UK – highlighted two key issues that prevent talented women making it into the boardroom. First, women only account for 19 per cent of FTSE 100 divisional heads, an important stepping stone to the c-suite and a position held by 44 per cent of current FTSE chief executives (CEOs). Second, many of today’s CEOs were already in the boardroom – some 19 per cent were previously Chief Finance Officers and 14 per cent came from operations and supply. Women make up just 25 per cent and 21 per cent of those roles, respectively.

Research and data help articulate the issues

The 25x25 findings chime with those of The Pipeline, which champions executive women, and which published its own report in November. The Women Count report found that women hold just one in five commercial roles on the boards of Britain’s 350 largest listed companies. Commercial roles – defined as those in charge of profit and loss-making functions – are more likely to be held by men. By contrast, women are more likely to hold functional positions such as HR or marketing.


Both pieces of research debunk the idea that talented women will somehow find their way to the top simply because there are a lot of them in the workplace. They also underline the importance of the work of organisations such as One Loud Voice (1LV).


Our aim is to tackle blocks to the talent pipeline much earlier in women’s careers, otherwise known as the ‘sticky middle’. We have identified this group of experienced and capable women who reach a point where they simply cannot progress their career, often because of the same ingrained attitudes and systemic cultural issues that Cemlyn-Jones points to.


Fixing the talent pipeline for women

To help us deliver on our aim we must first identify and articulate the problem, and that’s why research and data from organisations such as The Pipeline and 25x25 are so important. They enable us to speak to both organisations and individuals with authority. They also enable us to deliver our strategic initiatives, which include benchmarking companies to show whether they really do back women in their careers and delivering mentoring to support women in their careers.


Sexism in the City of London

1LV is also taking a sector-based approach and will start with a focus on financial services in 2024. The importance of supporting women in financial services was highlighted during the parliamentary inquiry into sexism in the City of London earlier this week. In her evidence to the Treasury committee Aviva CEO Amanda Blanc, one of just nine female FTSE 100 bosses,

told MPs that many women in the financial services industry do not have positive experiences. She referenced the instances where women had been forced to leave the company whilst the men remain, even though they were ‘the person who did the bad’.

Blanc said that the insurer had acted to sack male employees for inappropriate behaviour. The company had also made efforts to protect female staff and ensure their careers did not suffer as the result of whistleblowing. Not all companies take such a supportive approach. Our purpose at 1LV is increase the number of companies that do and help to bolster gender equity from within, inspiring organisations to adopt best practices.  

1LV in 2024 

As we look to the work 1LV will do in 2024, the words of 25x25’s CEO seem appropriate: ‘Executive gender balance is a great indicator of how robust an organisation’s succession and talent planning is, because women account for almost half the working population.’ We want to ensure more women make it to the boardroom.





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