Mentoring is key to getting more women into senior roles

DiversityDiversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory
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2月 07, 2020
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DiversityDiversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory
The proportion of women being appointed to executive committee roles – the key launchpad for chief executive successors – needs to increase.

FT Adviser

News Content 

The FT Adviser article, "Mentoring is key to getting more women into senior roles," was written by Russell Reynolds Associates Consultant Laura Sanderson. Laura explains how mentoring and gaining non-executive director experience play key roles in helping women business leaders make it to the top and how the 'glass cliff' phenomenon exists, but women have risen to the challenge. The article is excerpted below. 

How have the women business leaders of today made it to the top? Forbes' Most Powerful Women list, released every year, covers women in leadership positions in politics, government, finance, business and philanthropy. It is compiled using four metrics: money (GDP, revenue, assets under management, or net worth), media mentions, impact (employee count/population) and spheres of influence. Of this year's top 100 women, 45 are chief executives of major companies. This population can give us some clues: 24 per cent of the top 45 female chief executives found the best way to lead a company was to start one.  


For this to change any time soon, the proportion of women being appointed to executive committee roles – the key launchpad for chief executive successors – needs to increase. To aid the progression to more senior roles, formal sponsorship programmes in which a senior colleague provides developmental opportunities, including those above an individual's current level, and builds the case for promotion, are important.  

Mentorship, in which individuals who are considerably more senior and who may well be outside the mentee's own network provide support, is also key. In the UK, the FTSE 100 Cross-Company Mentoring programme, which was established by Peninah Thompson in 2003, has achieved remarkable results. The scheme asked FTSE 100 chairmen to mentor a senior woman from another company, and in return to nominate the most senior woman they could find in their own company to receive mentorship. Of the approximately 250 mentees since 2003, 48 have joined FTSE 100 boards or executive committees as executive directors or members, and 69 have become non-executive directors of FTSE 100 companies.  

Board experience 

There is no question that for aspiring female FTSE 100 chief executives, the most powerful career accelerator is take on a non-executive director role at the right time. Of the current six, five gained non-executive director experience elsewhere before being promoted to the top job. Gaining this board experience is a powerful equity card.   

Evidence also exists for the 'glass cliff' phenomenon, whereby women are likelier than men to be appointed to leadership roles during periods of crisis, just when the chance of failure is highest. But at the very moment when the risk is highest, the reward can also peak. Mary Barra, chief executive of General Motors, was appointed in 2014 when the company was teetering. But, she transformed the business and is the highest-ranked chief executive in this year's Forbes list. 

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