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The time for women’s leadership at work is right now

The time for women’s leadership at work is right now

Women in the UK are still only paid 90p for every £1 earned by a man, and while there has been an overall decline in the gender pay gap – it decreased 12.1% during the years 1997 to 2021 – it actually rose half a percent in 2021.

Businesses and institutions are aware they need to do better. In 2016, the government instituted the Hampton Alexander review, to ensure that talented women at the top of businesses are recognised, promoted and rewarded.

Its latest review found that female representation on boards reached 39% in FTSE 100 companies, and the voluntary target is now 40% for the top 350 companies by the end of 2025 – writes Kirstie McDermott, Senior Writer at Amply.

The time for women’s leadership at work is right now

 The time for women’s leadership at work is right now

This leakage of female talent at the upper echelons of an organisation is being called the ”broken rung”.

It is a phenomenon where women in entry level positions are promoted to managerial positions at much lower rates than men and was identified in research by McKinsey and LeanIn.Org where the joint study found that for every 100 men promoted to manager, only 86 women are promoted.

But, says Helen Ashton, CEO of management consultancy Shape Beyond and former CFO of Asos plc, the time feels absolutely right for women to step into leadership roles


Ashton was speaking at the recent Women in Business and Tech Conference in London and she said, “In the experience I’ve had, it’s pretty tricky to get into a leadership position as a woman.

Whether we like it or not, if you ask somebody to describe what a leader would look like, they will tend to describe a middle-aged white man, usually quite attractive, tall, charismatic, forceful, very confident.”

But, she says, if we can get past the vision of a man, the issue goes away. “The reality is, people don’t really care whether you’re a male or a female. They just want to be led by somebody who’s inspirational and actually a good leader.

But the problem is that when people recruit, there in the back of their mind, they still have this image of what a leader should look like. And they do often make decisions as a result of that.”

Another issue that affects women’s ascension to leadership is another stereotype around how women present themselves in the workplace. “I’ve been called too emotional, I’ve been called not emotional enough. I’ve been called an ice queen. There are so many different things that you tend to get called when you’re a woman,” she says.

Ashton points to the infamous “role traps” identified by American businesswoman Rosabeth Moss Kanter in the 1980s. They are the pet, the mother, the battle-axe and the seductress.

“You’ll still see that now, in the media, when we talk about women bosses, usually the stereotypes are quite similar to one of those four. So when we get into the leadership role, we tend to be pigeonholed into one of those things in a way that men just don’t tend to be at all,” she says.

Powerful tricks

But Ashton says that women have leadership qualities in abundance. “Female leaders have some really powerful tricks. Persuasion; female leaders are very good at persuading people, and we’re really willing to reinvent the rules. So, you know, men tend to follow a format that has gone before, but we tend to kind of just go, ‘Yeah, about that, it kind of doesn’t work, there’s a better way of doing it, why wouldn’t we just try this?’”

She also thinks that women work well in values-driven organisations that ultimately deliver a better experience to everyone working there. “If you work in a sector that actually is quite hire and fire, and it doesn’t really focus on professional development, or team building or any of those things, then that’s difficult.

Because if you’re female, and that’s what you want to do, men will tend to look at that as being quite weak.”

And agility is her big key to future business success. “Agility comes from enabling people to get on and do what they need to do,” she says.

“I think it’s time for women’s leadership to really have its moment, it feels like the right time. It feels exactly like the stars are aligning to bring together what we can bring to the party, and organisations out there are absolutely crying out for it.”

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