Getting women to the top: the holy grail


04 / 3 / 2015 12.36pm

Karen Castille is founder of Karen Castille Associates Ltd.

My mum died when both she and I were young, yet my memories of her qualities and strengths are as strong today as they ever were. Like countless women across the world, she exuded many of the traits frequently attributed to outstanding leaders and had an unrelenting commitment to her vision – which was for a stable and happy family. Her authentic, unyielding, deep rooted values and principles steadfastly guided her behaviour, in the same way that any great leader uses their values to glue teams, organisations and societies together.

In 2015 we are seeing more women exert their natural leadership style and create new leadership patterns through collective, or distributive, leadership. They have embraced social media to amplify their collective leadership voices.

In terms of business there still very few women CEOs. This is despite women outperforming their male counterparts in S&P 500 companies. In the UK, the figures are encouraging but slow to improve. Recent data report 23 per cent of women directors in FTSE 100 companies (up from 12.5 per cent in 2011).

Similarly, one of the world’s biggest organisations, the NHS, is no trail-blazer. Women remain significantly under-represented at senior levels relative to their overall presence in the workforce. They comprise 77 per cent of the NHS workforce, yet only 30 per cent of NHS Chief Executives are women.

Worse still, in UK politics, gender equality appears to have worsened with only five out of 22 cabinet ministers being women.

With relatively few women in leadership roles, it is evident that we still have some way to go.  The cultural issue of unconscious bias is the biggest barrier to gender equality in the UK. Our implicit biases and judgements about women, their roles and their capabilities are holding us back. Prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination are preventing us from achieving, and realising the benefits of, a gender balanced leadership across all aspects of our society. Ironically, it is also affecting women's own unconscious beliefs about themselves and is likely to be playing a part in preventing women from reaching their untapped potential. 

So on international women’s day I will be celebrating the real progress we have made in acknowledging the value and contribution that women bring to leadership roles. The holy grail is a more balanced culture in our society. With this in mind I am giving serious thought to what I personally can do to help more women into leadership roles; and to ensure that they are supported when they get there. I invite you to join me in this quest.

Last but not least, I will be thinking about my wonderful mum and the positive impact she had on me and the world around her, just as so many other amazing women are doing.

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