Women into leadership – representation through coaching

Arguably, gender pay gap reporting requirements has opened up a can of worms, as organisations across the UK show a disproportionate number of men in senior positions. And most businesses profess themselves keen to find ways to address the issue.

But are they? Really? After all, this particular can is hardly freshly-opened. The worms are everywhere. And have been for some time. The worms are everywhere. And have been for some time. After all, we’ve had legislation encouraging equality since 1976’s Sex Discrimination Act. And yet, a Forbes article from last year noted that there were still only 26 women CEOs in the Fortune 500. In the UK, less than a third of FTSE 350 companies are led by women, and 78% of companies are still paying women less than men.

The result is targets (FTSE 350 companies are challenged to ensure a third of board members and senior leaders are women by 2020) and aspirations (the Department of BIS suggests that closing the gender pay gap could add £150 billion to the UK economy by 2020.

The system isn’t fit for purpose

As ever, the problem lies in practices that have become ‘accepted’ (the way we do things around here) as it becomes more and more obvious that the current approach to the workplace strongly favours men and fails to account for the different pressures on women, nor the different life choices that they may make.

Traditionally – and broadly speaking, still the case today – women drop out of the workforce at key stages (often due to caring or parental responsibilities) and these career ‘breaks’ mean lagging behind male colleagues when women return to the workplace (often with those caring or parental responsibilities in tow).

There’s also the problem that despite decades of research and inspiring theories that favour a more inclusive approach to leadership, the ‘strong man’ model is difficult to shift. Academics, practitioners, consultants and pundits have been singing the virtues of leaders that listen and collaborate with their organisations, bringing authenticity, patience and intuition to the table. All good traits and often portrayed as stereotypically feminine. You would imagine that such a change in the perception of leadership would fling the doors of opportunity open. The figures and quotes above would argue otherwise.

Throw into the mix, individual bias (conscious and unconscious), and organisational structural and cultural barriers and its dispiriting, to say the least.

Why should we change?

Well, if you really want some reasons spelling out, apart from 50% of the workforce having a more positive attitude to the workplace, there’s…

  • Better staff engagement
  • Improved productivity
  • More effective teamworking
  • Better work-life balance


  • It’s just fairer!

Besides, the research continues to support the goal of equal representation of women in the workplace. A recent study from the Credit Suisse Research Institute Study found that the higher the percentage of women in top management roles, the greater the business returns.

The role of coaching for women in leadership

Coaching, as a method of personal and skills development that can focus closely on the individual, helping them set and achieve goals, tackling the issues and problems specific to their situation along the way, can be a powerful tool to redress the balance.

Coaching helps create the space to develop (and apply) a wider spectrum of leadership qualities. An organisational culture that includes a focus on coaching is more likely to be open to change and improvement, being an organisation more likely to listen to all its people, including those currently underrepresented.

Among the reported benefits of executive coaching for women, other than recipients developing themselves into more senior roles, include improved communication,  time management, self-confidence, and workplace relationships. Oh, and improved leadership skills too.


Gender pay gap reporting doesn’t apply to all UK companies. The government recently decided not to apply it to small and medium-sized businesses. However, whatever size you are, whether you report or not, the benefits of more senior women managers and executives are still available; so , ask yourself…

  • How’s your gender pay gap?
  • How’s your representation (of women at different levels in the workforce)?
  • How’s your reputation (as an employer of women)?

And, assuming you’re not perfect  (though if you are, get on the phone to the CIPD now and get some welcome free publicity as a case study) what are you going to do about it?

What do we need to be doing to support aspiring women leaders in our organisation?

To explore further how coaching could help your organisation, in particular with the representation of women in senior positions, check out our website. Or simply give us a call on 01582 463461. We’re here to help!

Categories: Coaching

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