Women in Leadership – Understanding the Landscape

Women in Leadership – Understanding the landscape

There are more men named David and Steve who head up FTSE 100 companies than there are women or ethnic minorities.  And still, in 2019, only six of the FTSE 100 companies are headed up by women.

The six women are:

  • Dame Carolyn McCall (ITV),
  • Emma Walmsley (GSK),
  • Liv Garfield (Severn Trent),
  • Alison Brittain (Whitbread),
  • Alison Cooper (Imperial Brands) and
  • Veronique Laury (Kingfisher)

Good news is that some 30% of board appointments (that includes NEDs) are now women. Although this number falls to 11% when considering executive board members in the FTSE100. We know that more women than men are graduating from universities (although there is difference in subject, e.g. only 37% of students in STEM fields are women). We know that men and women have equal opportunities when starting out in their careers and enter into first line management roles in equal numbers.

So, what is going on? Why is there such a shortage of women in leadership positions?

I spoke with a CEO a couple of years ago about this very issue. His perspective? Give me a woman any day. But tell me where I can find them.  And that led me to some interesting research into what I believe the issues could be.

Career Navigation

Firstly, there is a distinct difference in the way women and men navigate their careers. Women are more inclined to build a career based upon their proven performance and their results. Women typically want to do a great job, focus on delivery and building a strong team around them. Once they have proved their capability they look for a promotion, a project or some kind of career move. Men, on the other hand, are more inclined to be continually looking for opportunities irrespective of their current performance or how long they have been in their job role. They have stronger self-confidence and belief and base their future success on their how they see their own potential. (And that’s about differences in self-worth).

Networking & Influencing 

Perhaps this is also down to how much more effective men are at networking and influencing. Too many women leaders I know, hate the thought of networking, schmoozing and playing the game as many describe it. What they don’t realise is that reputation is everything. And building relationships is key to building the right reputation. People want to feel connected to others, they want to feel buy in and most leaders are keen to find win-win results. Typically, the higher up the organisation the more important relationships and visibility are to performance .

Imposter Syndrome

Another…. Whilst the imposter syndrome is something experienced by men and women, women are more inclined to suffer from confidence issues than men. This can come across in the form of perfectionism thinking – not letting anything go until it is perfect, not trusting others to do as good a job as them, mitigating the risk by going over everything again and again. Other women suffer from people pleaser syndrome. They work extraordinarily hard to deliver results for another, going above and beyond the call of duty again and again. These enormous standards take a personal hit through overwhelm and in some circumstances burnout. High stress levels affect sleeping patterns, motivation issues and self-worth. Women often feel they are not doing enough. And, actually it’s often the opposite that is true.



A further reason could be due to understanding loyalty. A lot of women in leadership positions feel incredibly loyal to their organisations and their bosses. They really do want to do a good job. They want to be valued in the workplace and ensure they have a clear and compelling purpose to the work they do. They invest a lot of internal energy into the role and are often very grateful for the flexibility the organisation offers or the understanding boss. Many are not willing to trade work life balance for what they see to be more demanding roles.


I set up the WLA four years ago with the intention of supporting women with ambition and heart, to help them navigate their way through the turbulence. To provide practical resources and learning, a super supportive network of like-minded women, to inspire and push the inner boundaries women can so often place on themselves. I wanted women to awaken to their full potential, to see a career that is so much more meaningful, aligned to their values and bringing far more joy than the treadmill they have been experiencing. It’s a programme that encourages curiosity and courage.  Where women have embraced all that we offer there have been some amazing transformations and friendships made for life.


International Women’s Day

Our next event is a celebration of International Women’s Day. We are hosting a Conference on 1stMarch 2019 at Chester Town Hall with a super line up of speakers, panellists, workshops and more. The event is being sponsored by Sir Robert McAlpine, there will be the announcement of a Women in Technology Sponsorship (worth £6000), the winner of our Remarkable Woman Award and bursary for the WLA together with a sponsored drinks reception.

We have over 100 delegates booked on from across the UK, including a number of men too. If you would like to be a part of this amazing day, take a look at the line up here:

We would love to meet you in person.

Sandra Green

Executive Coach & Founder of the WLA


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