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View from the street: women in leadership

Fergus Mcgowan

Client manager

Good morning,

This week is set to be a new departure for two political leaders. Keir Starmer’s Labour party, chaperoned by former prime minister Gordon Brown, publishes its commission’s recommendations on the constitutional argument and redistribution of power within the UK. Meanwhile, the SNP is electing a new leader at Westminster to continue their push for another independence referendum – more on that below.

In this week’s view from the street, Sabina Kadić-Mackenzie discusses the future of women in leadership positions in large companies.


Sabina Kadić-Mackenzie

Senior partner

As we approach the end of 2022 and look ahead to all the possibilities a new year holds, we must reflect on the challenges we have faced as a society, and will continue to face in 2023 and beyond.

This rings all too true when looking at the place women hold in leadership – and the all-too-slowly changing attitudes to those in top positions, who have broken the glass ceiling only to now be walking on broken glass.

Research from The Reykjavik Index for Leadership (RIL), which each year measures the perceived legitimacy of women’s suitability to lead, specifically the validity of leadership from men and women in politics and across 20 other professions, found that fewer than half of respondents from G7 countries feel “‘very comfortable” having a woman as a chief executive, down from 54% from the previous year.

One in 10 respondents said that they would explicitly be uncomfortable with a female CEO, with the number of women trusting other women in leadership declining.

Aside from the well documented differences in leadership styles between (most) men and (most) women, and the experiences of those they lead, having women in positions of power is more than just about numbers reporting and the good PR female leaders bring. It matters, not least to the bottom line.

Just last year, 87% of the Fortune 500 companies with a female CEO reported above-average profits, compared to 78% of those headed by men. And this isn’t a new phenomenon, we’ve seen it year after year. Today, FTSE 350 businesses without any women on their executive committee lose out. Simply put, an additional £123 billion in profits is on offer if companies with less than 33% women on their executive committee performed as well as those with 33% or more.

That is the power of trust and backing for women in leadership, which the RIL research so sadly exposes as lacking.

But the good news is this; the proportion of women in leadership is rising and that’s got to count for something.  The FTSE 100 alone has more women on boards than ever before, although the numbers remain miniscule, with just eight female CEOs in the top 100 UK companies (hats off to Diageo for leading the way, with women occupying 60% of the drinks giants’ board positions).

Whichever way you cut it, there are not yet enough women in leadership, and those that are face mistrust and questions about their suitability for their positions.

Most of us, I hope, agree that we need more women in power, but progress is shamefully slow. We need to make sure that those who smash the glass ceiling are supported, trusted, valued and heard – and enabled to focus on the job at hand, rather than trying to avoid the unavoidable shards of glass falling around them, and around those yet to follow in their footsteps.

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