Julia Anne George

Why most CEOs are failing to successfully gender balance their businesses

The new millennium is already into its 18th year and yet the representation of women in top decision-making positions remains extremely low. This is surprising when you consider that there is for a powerful business case indicating a range of positive results when more women are found at board level and on executive committees. Back in 2008, the Economist termed empowering women economically as “arguably the biggest social change of our times”.

Gender balancing doesn’t just mean bringing more women into business. Women already comprise a large part of the workforce – over 50% in the US. The number of employed women has been increasing steadily throughout the world. The issue is that they don’t rise to the top of organisations and are woefully under-represented at senior levels.

The business case for having women in top management

The data is now indisputable. All studies show that companies that have more women on their boards of directors outperform their competitors who have fewer women. The percentages vary but every measured statistic, from return on investment, to sales, to profit, improves when there are more women on boards and on executive committees.

Part of the reason for these results may be that women are also the majority of the client-base for most businesses. This situation surprises many men, who still hold the notion that they are manufacturing products and providing services for a largely male market. Actually, women make up between 75 – 80% of total consumer spend worldwide. Even in traditional ‘male’ areas such as IT and motor vehicle sales, women are over 50% of the market.

Every marketing guru will tell you that having an intimate, personalised understanding of your target market is crucial for a company’s success. If women are the majority of customers, it would make sense that having more women in decision-making positions would improve that knowledge, and enhance profitability.

Yet another point in favour of employing women in senior positions is that statistics show very clearly that all aspects of corporate governance are improved when there is a sufficient number of women at an executive level.

Then there’s the question of finding talent. HR executives around the globe bemoan the lack of skills, which consulting firms like McKinsey say is getting worse every year. When you consider that women now represent over 60% of university graduates worldwide, and that the gap between skilled women and men is widening, why are women’s talents not being fully utilised? It surely can’t be because it’s not possible to find skilled and qualified women. Talent is what every company searches for, and women are now the largest talent pool in the world.

So why are CEOs still not capitalising on this guarantee of success?

What is clear is that most CEOs are aware of the powerful business case for having more women in decision-making positions, and claim that it’s a priority. ‘Gender fatigue’ is now setting in, though, as they admit that their programmes haven’t yielded good results. Clearly they’re doing something wrong, but they tend to place the blame at the doorstep of HR or diversity managers, or with women themselves. This is where they need to re-think their approach.

Gender expert, Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, states in the Harvard Business Review that: “The lack of women in an organisation is a management failure.”

What can CEOs do to avoid falling into the traps that cause gender balancing to fail:

Grasp the scope and scale of the organisational change required:

Achieving gender balance requires a significant cultural shift from current practices, and it’s well known that CEOs are integral in driving cultural change in their businesses. Thus, a CEO cannot pay lip-service to a gender-balancing commitment. It should be driven with focused determination from the top.

Stop trying to adopted the approach of ‘fixing the women’:

Many gender-balancing attempts aim to mould women into the traditional male-dominated culture that exists in most businesses. The true objective should be to recognise the value of the different cultural and management styles that women offer, which are often more effective for a 21st century business environment.

Drive Gender balancing with specific targets set from senior management:

In many companies, a directive is given to HR to ‘recruit and promote more women’ and efforts are made at these levels. However, this often means that attempts to balance the genders are lost amongst all other aspects of ‘diversity’. HR has many responsibilities, so is unlikely to focus firmly on the case study for gender diversity.

Often, a CEO arranges for the formation of a ‘women’s group’. There are multiple groups like this in existence and they usually invite various motivational speakers and hold regular meetings. These efforts have not translated into any discernible change in the promotion of women, which is not surprising.

The task of improving their circumstances has simply been ‘outsourced’ to the women. The group rarely has any impact and certainly isn’t able to hold senior management to account, which is what is needed.


There needs to be specific training and cultural adjustments for gender balancing to succeed, without a clear mandate, HR may not have time for sufficient input.

The CEO needs to drive the programme with specific targets set from the top – it isn’t an HR issue but a leadership challenge, and line managers should be held accountable.

Meritocracy is not the answer, recruit women into senior roles:

Many CEOs believe that by bringing in enough women at lower levels and treating them the same way as men, they’ll naturally rise into senior positions. The fact that this hasn’t happened in the past several decades should make CEOs see that this is ineffective.

It is crucial to take the differences between the two genders into consideration and to pay attention to the cultural changes that are required in the business. Simply maintaining the status quo is what results in the ‘revolving door syndrome’ as qualified women leave in droves.

Overhaul HR practices:

Women’s importance and value to an organisation needs to be recognized. For example, when women are paid less than men and are given ineffective maternity benefits, it’s little wonder that they leave their jobs. Fortunately, this is being taken out of the hands of CEOs as several countries are recognising this problem.

For example, the UK now insists that all listed companies provide statistics on the difference in remuneration between the genders, with startling results. The country that has the lowest pay gap is Iceland (around 4%), as reporting on salaries has been required for some time. CEOs are thus being forced to demonstrate fairness, after having been content to allow this discrepancy to remain in place.


The bottom line

The CEO approaches listed above can achieve significant, sustainable results to increase the number of women at senior, decision-making levels. These steps discourage clinging to outdated, patriarchal business methods in the hope that they’ll achieve different results, but  wondering why the majority of women still find themselves excluded from the corridors of power.

Of course, there are pockets of change that are occurring, where CEOs truly grasp the bigger picture and drive the process of change unrelentingly from the top. In this type of situation, great success has been achieved and the companies’ performances, as well as the overall culture of engagement and job satisfaction, have improved vastly.

When CEOs truly understand that gender balance is a business imperative, they will doubtless start to demonstrate a true commitment. At the end of the day, building gender balance should be approached like any other change management initiative that a company undertakes. Change is always hard, so successful CEOs will learn that you need to get serious about it first.

Julia Anne George

About Julia: Writing professionally for the past 5 years, largely in a marketing capacity but also for several international publications, her true passion is in the field of gender-balancing and she has worked with various companies and candidates to ensure the success of qualified women at every decision-making level. She has written extensively in this field. Her passion is to introduce new models of management that are more consultative, which embrace diversity, and are more aligned with a 21st century business environment.

You may also be interested in these articles:

Sponsored Video


Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Newsroom Activity

Westminster Forum Projects (WFP) added a new event 8 hours

Next steps for SEND provision in England - the SEND...

This conference will be an opportunity to discuss the future for SEND provision in England, following the expected publication of the Government’s...

  • Tuesday, 29 March 2022 09:00 AM
  • Online
Tina Morris has published a new article: Top Digital Solutions to Help Graduates Get Hired 9 hours 3 minutes ago

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In Jan 2021, FE News had over 173,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector, putting us in the top 2,000 websites in the UK.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.


We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.


FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page