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Senior executives say male-dominated culture is the biggest barrier to women reaching the top

New research out today (25 April 2013) among over 600 Directors, CEOs and senior executives finds that male dominated corporate cultures are the biggest barrier to women reaching the board. One-quarter (23 per cent) of respondents claimed this was the single biggest barrier to progression, and over half (52 per cent) believe that today's corporate cultures are dramatically reducing the length of time women are prepared stay and develop their career with their employer.

"The Balancing Act: a study of how to balance the talent pipeline in business", undertaken by the Inspire board network and executive search firm Harvey Nash, also finds that the benefits of an improved culture won't just be felt by women; the gains for employers to a different approach across the whole workforce are significant. Sixty per cent of all senior executives in the survey say their productivity would be increased if their organisations played a more active role in helping them balance their work and non-work lives; the majority by 10 to 25 per cent. Well over half of respondents (58 per cent) say their productivity would rise by 10 or 25 per cent if work fitted better with life outside the office.

To tackle this counterproductive approach to the workplace, women respondents cited an improved culture (52 per cent), flexible working (36 per cent) and the removal of unconscious bias in the workplace (23 per cent) as the most effective way to persuade them to stay longer. Men agreed with the top two, but cited better investment in technology, such as video conferencing or laptops for remote working, as their third choice (30 per cent).

Carol Rosati co-founder of Inspire and director of Harvey Nash said: "Organisations are failing to recognise that in today's world, employees of all genders want different ways of working. But often the bias that creates this male dominated culture is unintentional and unconscious. Without realising it, senior managers often celebrate presenteeism and reward those employees who they have the most immediate access to. A more enlightened approach to managing all employees will help re-balance the gender in the talent pipeline, but also create a more productive workforce and improve retention. These initiatives need not be expensive, but the onus is on businesses to change the way they operate to achieve these gains."

The report also reveals that there appears to be little appetite for change among organisations. Over half of respondents felt it would take at least ten years before women make up one-third of private sector boards and over 16 per cent thought it would take more than 15 years.

The survey found that just a third (34 per cent) of Boards accurately reflect the social make-up of their organisation's customer base, with 60 per cent feeling they do not. Just under two-thirds (60 per cent) felt the single most important reason to ensure women reach senior and executive levels is because diverse executive committees are stronger.

Alexa Bailey, co-founder of Inspire and consultant at Harvey Nash said: "The kind of activities that are seen to help an individual's career, such as additional networking opportunities, social events, or staying longer in the office, are harder to participate in for anyone with responsibilities outside of work. But if a different approach to the workplace is adopted, everyone is equal. A diverse board is a stronger board, better able to identify and take advantage of commercial opportunities. By letting too many women opt out of corporate life halfway up the career ladder, organisations risk disconnecting with their customers, weakening their competitive edge and missing out on further opportunities. This isn't a talent issue, it's simply a bottom line business issue."

Just one in nine felt their organisation was successful at retaining, developing and promoting women up the food chain. Despite this, the overwhelming feeling is that gender quotas are not the answer; 67 per cent in the survey are against the introduction of these and more are in favour of targets.

A full copy of the report can be obtained from 25th April 2013 the Inspire website at:


For further information, please contact Keir Bosley / Keith Millar at CHA PR on 020 7580 7025 or /

About the research:

Fieldwork was conducted through an online survey conducted from January to March 2013, and reflects the views of over 600 executive level directors, CEOs, non-executive directors and senior business leaders from a wide range of industries and countries. There was a broadly even split between men (42 per cent) and women (58 per cent). Respondents came from across the globe, with 69 per cent based in the UK. In addition, this research was supplemented by a series of one-to-one interviews with prominent business executives and thought leaders in the field of diversity & inclusion and strategic talent management.

About Inspire:

Established in 2008 and supported by Harvey Nash, Inspire provides an environment in which senior board level business women from the private and public sectors can share and exchange ideas and experiences with their peers. Each year, Inspire hosts events for more than 1,000 women members made up exclusively of female board directors, Chairs, CEOs and Partners in Private Equity and Venture Capital firms.

About Harvey Nash:

Established in 1988, Harvey Nash has supported many of the world's leading organisations to recruit, source and manage the highly skilled talent they need to succeed in an increasingly competitive and technology driven world. With 4,000 professionals in over 40 offices across the USA, Europe and Asia the Group has the reach and resources of a global organisation, whilst fostering a culture of innovation and agility that empowers its people to respond to constantly changing client needs. We work with clients, both large and small, to deliver a portfolio of services: executive search, professional recruitment and outsourcing.