A 2022 report showed that approximately 40% of positions on FTSE 100 boards are held by women. Ten years ago, this figure was a lot lower, at only 12.5%. While this places the UK second in the international rankings for women’s representation on boards, there is still vital progress that needs to be made.

Of that 40%, 91% of women on FTSE 100 boards hold non-executive director roles, with only nine holding CEO roles. This reveals an alarming lack of women in senior board positions, especially considering that 50% of the UK’s population is female. 

To enact real change and improve the executive pipeline, women need to be placed in senior, decision-making roles. 

In celebration of International Women’s Day on the 8th March, we explore the impact of women on boards, the benefits female leaders bring to the table, and how women can take charge of their careers in seven ways.

What is the impact of women on boards?

Board diversity is often seen as too minimal a factor to influence business success. However, research paper after research paper shows us that gender diversity on boards indisputably improves profits. For example:

  • The Credit Suisse ‘Gender 3000’ report shows that companies with superior diversity in both the boardroom and the C-Suite outperform those with below average scores
  • McKinsey’s ‘Diversity Wins’ report shows that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile
  • The ‘Board Diversity and Effectiveness in the FTSE350’ report from FRC states that companies with no women on executive committees had a net profit margin of 1.5%, while those with more than 33% women at this level had a 15.2% net profit margin

There is clearly a strong correlation between gender diversity on boards and increased returns on capital. In fact, the failure to advance women into leading executive positions is a significant hindrance to profitability.

The benefits of having female leaders

The lack of women in executive leadership roles is alarming when you consider the range of benefits they bring to the boardroom. For instance, according to the McKinsey report, companies with 30%+ women executives are more likely to outperform companies where this number ranges from 10-30%.

In addition to improved financial performance, here are the top five benefits of having female leaders:

  1. Better gender diversity prevents the boardroom from having the same world-view. This leads to more diverse problem-solving and stronger decision-making
  2. According to one study, women are often more willing than their male counterparts to support peers and advance inclusion efforts, resulting in better organisational collaboration
  3. Female leaders actually de-risk firm performance in several ways, including reducing the likelihood of lawsuits, scandals, and corporate crime
  4. Women leaders also improve ESG, as shown in this report, which states that the likelihood of voluntary climate change disclosure increases with the number of women on boards

Companies achieve greater innovative success and invest more heavily in innovation when there is a higher percentage of female directors

How to take charge of your career & aim for the top

A lot needs to be done to improve gender diversity on boards and advance women into senior positions. There must be more accountability around succession planning and stronger efforts of FTSE companies to make impactful, meaningful changes. 

But the power isn’t only in their hands. 

Now more than ever, women are taking charge of their careers and establishing themselves as strong leaders. Glass ceilings are meant to be shattered, so here are our top seven tips on how to break through and aim for the top. 

1. Know what you want – and go get it

You must be laser-focussed if you want to end up at board level. Make sure your career path is clear and purposeful, and be selective when it comes to sending your CV out. Advancing professionally is a game of strategy, so be prepared, know exactly what you want, and plan ahead.

2. Act the part 

Imposter syndrome is quite common among working women, and it can be the ultimate career killer. But don’t let that deter you. Even if you’re not at CEO level yet, act like you are – in other words, fake it ‘til you make it.

Confidence carries, making people more likely to trust your guidance, opinions, and decisions. Performing as if you’re already at board level will also allow you to sharpen your knowledge of the company and build relationships with other teams – and that takes us to our next tip.

3. Make connections and network, network, network

Forming connections with people inside and outside your company is a key way to advance your career and reach that next level. Every connection you make is like a lottery ticket – you never know where it will lead. In fact, a quarter of CEOs say their board roles came from making personal and professional connections.

The power of networking can’t be overstated, whether that’s face-to-face or on a social platform like LinkedIn. It gets you known by a wide range of people and puts your name in front of industry leaders, keeping you at the forefront of their minds so that they remember you when opportunities open up. 

4. How do you look on paper?

When applying for board-level positions, it’s crucial to ensure your bio, CV and supporting documents present you as the best candidate. Take the time to ensure these are well written, professional and relevant to the role.

Don’t underestimate the weight a good CV carries. If you need advice that will help you land your dream job, consider a professional CV writing service.

5. Know how to interview well

Once you get to the interview stage of your dream job, it’s time to shine. Becoming an expert interviewee will allow you to get your foot in the right door and climb the ladder all the way to the top. The interview stage is about finding the candidate that will both suit the company’s culture and bring the company success, so focus on your best attributes and skills, and quantify these with real-world examples of how you used them to achieve success.

The period following an interview is also important. This is your chance to demonstrate your determination and drive for success. Don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions – these make you more memorable – and remember to thank the employer for the interview as this is an excellent way to build those all-important connections.

6. Consider getting your MBA degree

Over 20% of the world’s CEOs have MBAs. They can prepare you for success by teaching you the fundamentals of business, and as a CEO, you will need a broad and expert understanding of the various functions taking place within an organisation.

While an MBA degree is definitely not mandatory, it’s one way you can gain a competitive edge and curate your professional profile towards board-level positions.

7. Build authority

If you’re an expert in your field, you can leverage that knowledge into intellectual property and become an authoritative source in your industry.

Speaking at conferences, writing online articles, getting involved on LinkedIn, or even publishing a book are all examples of how you can harness the power of expertise, reach wider audiences, and create demand for you

Shape your own future

The power to advance your career and shape your future is in your hands, and these seven tips are just the beginning. If you’re looking for ways to unlock your full potential, it may be worth investing in career coaching services that will give you confidence and set you up for success. 

Or why not join me on 9th March for my Masterclass – ‘Get Board Ready: Launching your NED Portfolio Career’ Register here

The future is yours – grab it.