Cracking the code: gender intelligent approach to developing corporate leaders

Cracking the code: gender intelligent approach to

Melanie Richards discusses the Cracking the Code research on KPMG’s ‘World of Work’ blog, highlighting 3 things to encourage women to reach the top


Vice Chair KPMG UK and Partner Corporate Finance, Debt Advisory

KPMG in the UK


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As a 30% Club founder member, KPMG is very proud to have collaborated with the 30% Club and business psychologists YSC to produce the Cracking the Code research. 

The research – covering a representative cross-section of FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 companies, accounting for over 680,000 employees – undermines ten ‘myths’ about how women progress to the top. 

Different outcomes  

The study finds that men and women have similar career aspirations, leadership behaviour and push and pull factors for career moves. However, it also reveals how even small differences can result in noticeably different outcomes. Currently, a man starting his career in a FTSE 100 organisation is 4.5 times likelier to reach the Executive Committee than his female counterpart. The blockage is at the top: senior women are two times less likely to be promoted but four times less likely to leave than male peers.  

Despite many companies trying hard for many years, these findings highlight how companies are still not doing enough to support and encourage females to reach the top. This is a critical business issue. Indeed, from my conversations with senior leaders since launching the research, there is common agreement that further change is needed. Our practical suggestions in the report are clearly only the start.  

What can organisations do? 

We highlight three key things that organisations can do:  

  1. Unlock the power of data:  Data today is powerful, especially when it links both people and business performance.  Companies are not doing enough to track people's working lives - firms need to collect and provide more data to help build a clearer picture of employees' careers.  This type of dynamic data enables organisations to manage their talent pipeline.
  2. Authentic leadership: Employees of both genders want better quality, more career-focussed conversations, with clear career mapping that leaders understand and support. It is often the quality of the conversation rather than the quantity that is important here. All leaders, including line managers, has a special role and have the necessary tools and support to talk authentically and be ‘gender intelligent’. 
  3. Responsibility and accountability: the board take responsibility, both collectively and individually for gender equality. All leaders should be held accountable for their actions. This includes the board and Executive Committee being measured regularly against set targets, and leading by example.   

Men also have just as much of a role to play as women in role-modelling behaviour which inspires women lower down the pipeline. The study highlights how women alone cannot drive change for gender equality. To deliver fundamental change in the future, leaders need to be more honest about the strategic importance of gender diversity. They must also show a personal interest in the issue of getting women to the top. Feel free to get in touch  with any feedback or comments on the research, I would love to hear from you. 

This article represents the views of the author only, and does not necessarily represent the views or professional advice of KPMG in the UK.

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