Should I change my name to John? The reality of women and leadership

FACT: There are twice as many men named John who are CEOs or Chairmen of FTSE 100 firms as there are women [1]. This stark reality begs the question; how long is it going to take for us women to viewed as equals in leadership, and more importantly, what are organisations doing to be responsible for getting women into leadership?

When I think about Corporate Social Responsibility, I tend to associate it with an organisation’s obligations to the environment and the community, the CIPD define CSR as addressing the ethics of an organisations activities and how it operates in a way that is viable over the long term, with the following areas: community, employees or labour, environment and market place [2], but we often forget it’s also about an organisations obligations to its employees and what’s ethical for them; fair treatment and protection against discrimination, so why does it appear this isn’t the case when we discuss women in the workplace, especially leadership, or should that be lack of? So, who is stopping us from getting to the top? And more importantly, why?

The culture of an organisation can hinder women’s chances of progression. The covert assumptions made by male colleagues, which were often enhanced by the culture within the organisation could be detrimental to their female counterparts. Also, discriminatory views of organisations and men in senior or board level positions meant qualified, competent women were often over looked for opportunities [3].

This is something I’m extremely passionate about, my own mother is a leader in her workplace; a very well respected, successful and confident one at that, as are many of her colleagues. She inspires the leader in me and shows me that being a woman should never have to hinder your opportunities to be a leader.


Donna Bonser, Operations Manager, Parseq Ltd

A survey of 3,000 members of the Institute of Leadership and Management found that 73% of their female respondents believed barriers still existed for women seeking senior management and board positions in the UK, meanwhile only 38% of male responders believed there is a glass ceiling [4]. This shows the disparity between the sexes in leadership and how this is a problem for females. There’s an abundance of data that shows female leadership can significantly increase profitability in organisations, yet only 4% of Fortune 500 companies are ran by a woman [5] and a report found Fortune 500 companies with female representation on their board showed significantly higher financial performance than those with low female representation [6].

It isn’t just organisations that fuel the fire, the UK media perpetuates the idea that female leaders are somehow different to their male counterparts. The Guardian used Theresa May’s Brexit 12-point agenda announcement as an opportunity to discuss her Vivienne Westwood pant suit [7], whilst The Telegraph have a whole article dedicated to her fashion whilst in charge, stating that her fashion choices “sent a message to aspiring politicians that you could be serious about your work whilst also enjoying fashion” [8] as though this somehow influences how she performs in her role as Prime Minister. They don’t appear to have published similar articles discussing the shoes worn by David Cameron when he gave his resignation speech, or Donald Trump’s choice of shirt for his inauguration.

From a young age, it’s instilled into us how girls are expected to behave; kind, sweet and pleasant. Yet boys are allowed and even encouraged to be boisterous, aggressive and tough [9]. It’s almost taboo for a girl to behave in this manner, think of the #BanBossy campaign [10], fronted by various female leaders of our time. We are shown what toys we are supposed to play with, girls play with dolls and kitchens, yet boys play with cars and guns. So, is it a societal issue? Are we forcing these stereotypes on children that are inevitably going to translate into their adult mindset and into the workplace?

Personnel Today published an article, discussing why organisations need both male and female leaders, and that women can offer a different style of leadership that is becoming more desired in organisations [11], they also laid out five actions for HR to take to break through the glass ceiling. These steps can help organisations create the environment in which both men and women can thrive. Tackle unconscious and conscious bias, learn how to minimise it, especially in instances such as recruitment, talent development and succession planning. Promote equality, ensure you’re paying the same to men and women in the organisation. Offer career guidance, doing so can provide both genders with clarity on their options within the organisation. Implement and support flexible working, don’t make it feel taboo for employees to request flexible working hours, especially mothers with children. And lastly, offer workshops and coaching, provide both men and woman opportunities to discuss and work through issues that are personal to just them. Their advice doesn’t distinguish between males and females within organisations, but rather how to be inclusive of both genders when facing issues.



[1] Day, E. (2017). Sexism: Here We Go Again. Glamour , 49-51.

[2] CIPD. (2017). Corporate Responsibility: An Introduction. Retrieved from CIPD:

[3] Robinson, D., & Hicks, B. (2010). Women in Leadership: Time to Intervene? Institute for Employment Studies.

[4] Snowdon, G. (2011, February 21). Women still face a glass ceiling. Retrieved from The Guardian:

[5] Jadesimi, A. (2016, August 8). Female Leadership: The Glass Ceiling Is Cracked, Not Broken. Retrieved from Forbes:

[6] Women of HR. (2016, April 28). The Benefit of More Women in Leadership Roles. Retrieved from Women of HR:

[7] Ferrier, M. (2017, January 18). Feeling Rotten: the meaning of Theresa May’s Vivienne Westwood suit. Retrieved from The Guardian:

[8] The Telegraph. (2017, January 16). Prime Ministerial style: How Theresa May dresses for the biggest job in politics. Retrieved from The Telegraph:

[9] Dewar, G. (2012). Girls toys. boys toys, and parenting. Retrieved from Parenting Science:

[10] Lean In. (2014, March 9). Ban Bossy – I’m Not Bossy. I’m The Boss. Retrieved from YouTube:

[11] Bailey, R. (2016, July 15). Women in leadership and five actions for HR. Retrieved from Personnel Today:


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