Mismatched people management impacts executive diversity, study shows

  • Women miss out on critical experiences offered to men to achieve promotion
  • Senior managers don’t spend enough time developing their people
  • Female managers are more open to, and encouraging of, diversity

30% Club has today released ‘Just about Managing’, a study focusing on how managers affect gender diversity through the executive pipeline.  The report, based on interviews with managers and their reports from 10 large corporates, finds that the chronic shortage of senior female executives can be linked to how people are managed.

Responses from male and female interviewees to questions about how they work with their report/manager reveal gender differences that particularly affect women’s progression at the mid-career stage. Female managers are twice as likely to be personally involved in developing their people, while male managers are three times more likely to outsource developing their report.

Rachel Short, Director at Why Women Work and 30% Club Steering Committee member, who co-led the research, said:

“Managers focus on specific opportunities for their male reports, who are steered towards deepening their skillset and getting the critical experience they need for promotion. This contrasts with how managers develop their female reports, who are encouraged to adapt their approach and to broaden their professional experience to open up a range of career options.  Whilst it’s true that women receive support from their manager on raising their profile through their professional relationships, men are being put forward for CV-boosting experiences, such as MBAs and secondments.”

The research also reveals that development declines with seniority.  Whilst junior managers work closely with their reports and provide day to day feedback and advice, executives and senior managers spend very little time managing or developing their people.  Time spent with a manager drops from 29% for female reports and 24% for male reports, to just 5% for both genders.

Pavita Cooper, Founder of More Difference and 30% Club Steering Committee member, who also co-led the research, commented:

“Things get tough at the top where senior managers are not actively readying their reports for the next level of seniority. Couple that with the fact that it is men who get better preparation for specific roles by their managers, and we’re faced with a group of women left lacking both the managerial support and the concrete know-how to step into senior executive roles. We need to start pulling women through for promotion much earlier on so that we can establish a deep pipeline of female executive talent.”

Responses from those interviewed also reveal that female managers are more active in encouraging diversity through the executive pipeline. When managers were asked: ‘If your male/female report were to be promoted into your role, how would she/he do things differently from you?’, female managers were optimistic and expansive about the different skills and experiences that their reports would bring to the table. Male managers, however, expected their reports to have a broadly similar approach to them and were more likely to describe any perceived difference as a potential risk.

Rachel Short added:

“There have been a number of reports in the past linking women with organisational innovation[1].  This research reveals how some male, but many more female, managers create a team climate that values individual difference and welcomes shifts in leadership style. Having more female managers is a clear ‘double whammy’ for organisational change efforts.”

The study was comprised of short, structured interviews with 342 managers and reports ranging from Executive Committee down to Supervisor/Junior Manager. Companies were asked to put forward a representative sample of managers from their organisation, rather than people who feel strongly about diversity. The study includes practical hints and tips for managers. 

The ‘Just about Managing’ report will be presented today at a launch event hosted by Standard Life Wealth, with an introduction by Helena Morrissey, Founder of the 30% Club. Follow the event on Twitter via the hashtags #justaboutmanaging, #womanagement and #mindthegap.

A toolkit and more detailed findings on managing and developing women will be available via the 30% Club website in Q2 2017.


Media contacts

+44 (0) 7835 770967


[1] How Women drive Innovation and Growth, Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Melinda Marshall and Laura Sherbin, HBR,  2013

Gender diversity within R&D teams: Its impact on radicalness of innovation, Cristina Díaz-García, Angela González-Moreno and Francisco Jose Sáez-Martínez. Innovation: Management, Policy & Practice, 2013; 15 (2): 149

Inclusive Leadership: the view from six countries, Jeanine Prime and Elizabeth R. Salib. Catalyst, 2014 e Women Better Leaders than Men?

Are women better leaders than men?, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, HBR, 2012

The hidden talent: Ten ways to identify and retain transformational leaders, PWC, OSCA & Harthill Consulting, 2015

What makes a team smarter? More Women, Anita Woolley and Thomas W. Malone, HBR, 2011

The hidden talent: Ten ways to identify and retain transformational leaders, PWC, OSCA & Harthill Consulting, 2015

About 30% Club

The 30% Club was founded in the UK in 2010 and is a global effort with chapters in ten countries around the world. Led by Brenda Trenowden, Global Chair, we collaborate with businesses, governments and other campaigns to improve gender diversity and accelerate the pace of change from schoolroom to boardroom. Our campaign targets include a minimum 30% women at senior management level of FTSE-100 companies by 2020.

We support research on why women are good for business and what works to ensure more women progress through the executive pipeline. We are actively calling for companies to take more radical action, including publicly reporting the gender balance in their organisation.  This includes organisations working with the Hampton-Alexander Review to agree and adopt standardised methodology to help monitor female participation in the executive pipeline.