Women less prepared to sacrifice everything to reach the top

Sep 13 2006 by Nic Paton Print This Article

It isn't discrimination that is stopping women getting into the boardroom, a new survey has suggested. They just aren't prepared to make the sacrifices needed to get there.

The poll of 105 female directors in the UK has found that while two thirds believed women generally enjoyed equal opportunities, just a third felt women had the same chance as men of becoming a board director.

Yet, intriguingly, the survey by recruitment company Praxis Executive Resourcing also found that fewer than half – 44 per cent – believed this barrier was because of traditional male dominance of senior management positions.

In fact, many more, nearly two thirds, thought that breaking their careers to have a family was a key factor putting them at a disadvantage, while 48 per cent believed that putting family before career did the same.

More than half felt women self-selected out, presuming that they would not reach the boardroom, and a massive 68 per cent believed it was down to a lack of networking skills in comparison to their male counterparts.

One female director of a large plc told the survey: "It doesn't matter whether you are a man or a woman – getting a meaningful board position isn't easy. It takes total commitment and a willingness to make a lot of sacrifices, particularly in your personal life.

"A lot of my female friends and colleagues just aren't willing to do that. Rightly or wrongly, they're more interested in achieving a balance between work and the rest of their lives and that's why I'm where I am and they're not," she added.

Nearly two thirds, nevertheless, were optimistic about the prospects of women aiming for the boardroom in the future.

Nearly half of these optimists cited the increasing number of role models for ambitious younger women, and 32 per cent felt changing attitudes within society were a factor.

More than four out of 10 pointed to the need for companies to recruit and retain the best talent irrespective of gender or ethnic background as a key driver.

"Women are still very much in the minority in UK boardrooms and our record is comparatively poor to some of our European neighbours," said Kate Mason, head of Praxis Executive Resourcing.

"A recent survey by the European Professional Women's Network, for example, found that only 10 per cent of UK directorships are held by women as opposed to 22 per cent in Sweden and 28 per cent in Norway.

"However it's encouraging that the increasing number of female role models such as Indra Nooyi, the new head of PepsiCo, is inspiring more women to break the glass ceiling into the boardroom."

Last year an analysis of labour force statistics by the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research contentiously suggested that the "hidden brain-drain" of high-flying women opting out of the U.S. workforce to spend more time with their kids is a myth.

Instead, the real reason for the decline in the number of women in the labour force is the overall weakness of the labour market, it claimed.