Becoming a Female CEO

Is it more difficult for a female to become a CEO?


Yesterday we released an article which outlined the importance of quotas when it comes to getting more women in prominent boardroom positions. The statistics show that although things are improving, there's an awful lot more for organisations to do.

When it comes to female CEOs, the statistics are even more worrying. At the moment, there are five female CEOs of FTSE 100 companies, with the total just four up until September of last year. Veronique Laury became the fifth FTSE 100 female CEO, taking over the reigns at Kingfisher plc.

With the numbers stacked firmly in the favour of men, it begs the question as to whether women have to work harder than men to get to the CEO position.

Forbes contributor, Gene Marks, wrote an article entitled 'Why Women Will Never Become CEO'. The article outlined that child birth, social pressures and covert sexism are the main barriers which stand in the way of prospective female CEOs. It would be naïve of anyone to suggest that women aren't exposed to more social pressures than men in the workplace, and these can have a detrimental impact on a female's ability to work her way up an organisational structure.

Sexism hasn't disappeared either, things have improved, but you only have to look back to May 2014 when Richard Scudamore, the Premier League's Chief Executive, commented negatively about a female colleague to see that even the most powerful are capable of discrimination. What's worse for female workers is that their claims often go unnoticed and are often passed off as 'fun and games' between colleagues.

The statistics also demonstrate that it's not a college education that gets women to the CEO post. Many of today's female CEOs, including Kathleen Mazzarella at Graybar, who was a customer assistant at the company she would eventually run, start at the bottom and work their way up. It took Mazzarella over 30 years to reach Graybar's summit, very much representative of the importance of being in it for the long haul.

Research by the Harvard Business Review demonstrates that the median long stint for a female CEO is 23 years, whilst for men it's just 15. Additionally, 71% of female CEOs were promoted as 'long-term insiders' whilst the figure stands at only 48% for men. This means that companies are more willing to employ male CEOs who are coming from the outside than women.

These figures lead to one conclusion; it's more difficult for a woman to become the CEO of a major corporation than it is for a man. The quotas introduced in some countries to help female participation at the board level could be essential to seeing that 5% figure rise, and it will be interesting to see if other countries follow France, Finland and Norway's example. It's also clear that a college education is far from a prerequisite for aspiring female CEOs, instead, it seems that playing the long game is the most reliable route.


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