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The Future Female CEO: Overcoming barriers to the Executive Board

19/02/18 Greg McHugh Search Partner

Over the last 10 years, women have made significant progress in business globally, however there are still twice as many men who are in executive job roles.

Recent industry insight from Deloitte, the Audit, Consulting and Financial firm, found that just three per cent of women hold Chair roles on the FTSE 250. Yet, whilst representation at Board level is slowly starting to improve through the introduction of several quotas and initiatives, research suggest females need to take ownership of their careers to reach the top.

While there are no government-mandated quotas in the UK, there have been strong signals sent through groups such as the 30% Club, a 2010 initiative started by Helena Morrissey, head of personal investment at Legal & General, which has the goal of achieving a minimum of 30% women on FTSE 100 boards. In 2010, women on boards comprised 13% of the total; in early 2015, that number had risen to 24%.

Last year, De Beers Group, Redline Group’s featured client announced a US$3 million partnership with UN Women to improve the prospects of women and girls in its producer countries. The company seeks to accelerate the advancement of women in its organisation and ensure its consumer brands are a positive force for supporting gender equality through its marketing campaigns. As part of the partnership, De Beers Group plans to achieve parity in the appointment rate of women and men into senior leadership by 2020. To support this, a gender diversity group, reporting to top-level management, has been established, while unconscious bias training, a senior manager led reciprocal mentoring programme and a review of policies and recruitment guidelines, are also under way.

Greg McHugh, Redline Executive Search Partner has over 20 years in the executive search industry. Having worked for Saudi Aramco and TrinityMann, his own executive search firm, he has a truly global understanding of women on boards.

Greg discusses: “Despite a wealth of organisational initiatives designed to support women’s leadership, research shows that the critical factor in a woman achieving the top job is still active ownership of her own leadership career. For every female CEO I know, they have the positive attitude of being a leader, continued ambition, accept compromise when balancing work-life and ultimately have a tough shell that has propelled their journey to the top of the ladder.”
Deloitte’s report, titled ‘Claiming the corner office: Female CEO Careers and implications for leadership development’, collated recommendations to help women propel their careers up the ladder.

  • Self-acceptance: All leaders face difficult work–life trade-offs, but women are often still judged for prioritising career over family
  • Self-development: Overcoming confidence barriers (their own as well as barriers set by others) 
  • Self-management: Female leaders have to work hard at self-management, for example being the boss whilst not appearing ‘too pushy’.

“Women with the desire and potential to lead or join a board must recognise leadership ambitions come with some compromises (as their male counterparts have to also). Once made and realised, they then be decisive about what they want to become, what needs to be sacrificed and alas all too frequently they still often face criticisms from other board members and executives.” says Greg.

“From vast experience of working alongside many women in my 19 years’ experience, I personally encouraged young women to take any opportunity to lead and manager people and take active ownership of their career progress. The barriers preventing women entering boardrooms in greater numbers are various and complex, but new recruiting policies, female networks and mentoring schemes can all be used to help women climb higher.”

Much has been written in recent years about the advantages to companies of having diverse boards—diversity of thought, better stakeholder representation, different points of reference and experiences—all of which can translate into a competitive advantage for the organisation in question.

However, we must not overlook the fact that the success of the 30% Club and other initiatives is due in part to the support of male advocates. Getting senior male executives to support greater representation of women is key to keeping diversity moving ahead, especially since men are still overwhelmingly in the decision-making positions.

While quotas can be useful, they do not in themselves solve the long-term problem of how to get women considered for board positions. What we really need is to raise women in executive jobs and the pool of female candidates across the corporate spectrum.

“The issue of getting more women into executive jobs and senior management jobs and then ultimately on to boards will not be resolved overnight given the shift in mind-set that still needs to evolve. But there is no doubt that changing current recruitment models, ensuring women are employed in executive and senior management jobs, mentoring them either formally or informally and improving networking opportunities, are all important pieces of the puzzle for achieving future success.”

Redline Executive are the leading industry-aligned Executive Search recruiters to the Technology sector and have committed to challenge and improve the quality of women in executive job roles in the executive search sector.

For more information about jobs at De Beers Group, please contact Steve Bernat on 01582 878820 or email

Redline provide a modern, refined solution by delivering pioneering methodologies that enables clients to attain superior returns reflecting the requirements of businesses hiring a diverse workforce in today’s market.

To have a confidential discussion about our executive search services or broadly discuss assignments such as Executive job roles, please call Greg McHugh on +44 (0)1582 878853 or send an email to