Was she pushed, or did she jump?

Posted on 2 May 2014 by The Manufacturer

Are women in senior exec roles more likely to get the chop when mergers take place? Jane Cox a Partner at national law firm Weightmans comments in response to a recent report on the matter.


Jane Cox, Weightmans LLP
Jane Cox, Weightmans LLP

A recently published study from Strategy& revealed that female CEOs are much more likely to be forced out of their roles as opposed to leaving in a planned succession or a merger than their male counterparts and less likely to be promoted internally than men.

Although there has been an increase in incoming women CEOs over the past five years, it is estimated that it will still take some 25 years before we reach the point of a third of CEO’s being female.

This under representation of women in senior roles comes some forty years after the introduction in the UK of legislation outlawing sex discrimination and inequality of pay between the sexes.

Manufacturing was identified as the sector with the lowest number of women CEOs  – and it is definitely a sector that carries a stereotypically ‘masculine’ culture and is renowned for its low numbers of female staff.

The reasons for this under representation are not straight forward.

They include the subject choices made by girls at school, the attitudes of schools and careers advisors, fewer opportunities for work experience, poor perceptions as to work environment and the fact that many women take the greater share for family responsibilities including caring for children and other relatives.

This last factor is not unique to manufacturing and continues to be an issue despite a dramatic increase in family friendly legislation in recent years including affording fathers the opportunity to have up to 26 weeks of maternity leave transferred to them from the mother.

Interestingly, although few fathers presently take up their rights, as part of the current government’s aim to make the labour market more flexible, efficient and fair, they are proposing in April 2015 to increase the amount of maternity leave that can be transferred between parents as they believe that women should not have to choose between having a successful career or having a baby.

They hope that this will shatter the perception that it is mainly the mother’s role to stay at home and look after the child following its birth.

However there is no evidence to suggest that this change will result in mothers returning to work any earlier. Furthermore, won’t men in considering whether or not to utilise their new rights have the same concerns as women as to the affect that being away from work will have on their career ?

The under representation of women  in senior roles and at board level – as evidenced in Strategy&’s survey – has attracted much attention in recent years, with the Government commissioning Lord Davies to develop a strategy to increase the number of women on the boards of UK listed companies.

The Davies Report did not advocate quotas to improve gender diversity in the UK, unlike some other European countries, but argued for appointments to be made on merit, Nevertheless, some commentators suggest that there is now more pressure on companies to make higher-risk female appointments and that this could be a factor to be take into account when considering why women CEOs are more likely to get forced out.

I, as I suspect the majority of women, would be horrified to think that my employer took a gamble in promoting me, that my appointment had nothing to with getting the right person for the job, but was down to the fact that I am a woman.

Increasing the representation of women in senior positions is not simply about equality and recruiting and promoting women it’s a lot more complicated than that.

However our economy can only benefit from maximising the potential of all of our employees and that’s about properly identifying and developing employee strengths and best utilising the skills available regardless of gender.

Increased legislation simply creates more obligations for employers and doesn’t change attitudes. But talented women can and will do this.