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Women fall further behind in leadership

17 June 2024

New research shows that women still lag in leadership roles worldwide – despite having more soft skills such as leadership and collaboration.

The latest LinkedIn data published in the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report 2024, shows that in the UK, the proportion of women hired into leadership roles dropped to 37.1% in 2023 from 37.8% in 2022. Meanwhile, Linkedin states that: “the data also showed a ‘seniority slump’ persisting, with female representation dropping from 46.9% at entry-level to 25.9% at the C-suite.”

This pattern was not restricted to the UK but was repeated all over the world. Although data by The Global Gender Gap Index suggests a steady increase in women in leadership positions from 2017 to 2022, it has always lagged considerably behind men, and now appears to be tailing off. The Global Gender Gap Index for 2022, when women leadership positions were at their highest, still indicates that only select industries have levels near gender parity in leadership, such as Non-Governmental and Membership Organisations (47%), Education (46%), and Personal Services and Wellbeing (45%). At the other end of the spectrum are Energy (20%), Manufacturing (19%) and Infrastructure (16%). 

While facilities management is not specifically mentioned as an industry sector, it can be assumed to be nearer the bottom end of the spectrum, given its focus on hard and technical services, which are typically male-dominated. However, given that the drop in leadership positions held by women is not industry-specific, it seems that other factors may be contributing to the general decline.

One suggestion made on Linkedin is that: “When times are difficult, organizations often become more cautious and lean on making choices that feel "safe". And in hiring this can still be white and male. It seems that is what we are seeing in these the statistics in leadership hiring.” 

There’s also speculation that there simply aren’t enough women applying for leadership roles; this chimes with what’s going on in the FM space, which has historically promoted more though the operational rather than the soft skills side, thus organically favouring male candidates. 

Unconscious bias has a role to play, too. In a country like the UK where over 80% of CEOs are Caucasian males, the unconscious perception of CEOs being Caucasian males can be hard to challenge. There were just nine female CEOs in the FTSE100 (despite women making up 52% of the UK’s population,) in 2023 and just 11 from non-white-European backgrounds. 59% of HR practitioners believe unconscious bias prevents their organisation from making the right hire, according to a survey by LinkedIn.

So, what can be done to change this? Many FM companies are already working hard on their own DE&I initiatives, and looking to hire from multiple diverse talent streams, but clearly more still needs to be done at leadership level. The Linkedin report calls for “targeted interventions to support women’s career advancement”, recommending a skills-first approach to hiring, implementing fair and inclusive hiring practices, encouraging flexible working arrangements, providing training and upskilling opportunities, and ensuring equitable training as AI transforms the workplace. These systemic changes, it believes, are what’s needed to address gender inequality.

Image: Shutterstock

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