Recently, the Cranfield School of Management, billed as one of the “oldest and most prestigious business schools in the UK,” published The Female FTSE Board Report 2014.  The report examines the startling underrepresentation of women in chief executive positions — just four women helm FTSE 100 companies  — and further illustrates the failure of leading companies to rely on women to be transformational leaders.

The report is extensive, provocative, and eye opening. Therefore, over the next four weeks, Insigniam will examine facets of the report in our series: Inside the Female FTSE Board Report.

Part I: Identifying Talent, Performance, and Potential

When considering why women are excluded from chief executive roles, the size of the talent pool, performance, and potential are sometimes cited as inhibitors.

Not only is talent and performance subjective, says the report, but the common understanding of these concepts may be so ingrained with gender bias that, by their very definition, they reinforce stereotypes regarding the capabilities of female leaders.

As Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In, was quick to note in an interview with National Public Radio, “boys are socialized to be assertive and aggressive,” which perpetuates what is expected of men in the workplace, and how performance and potential is judged.

The study echoes Sandberg’s sentiments, noting, “This underscores the importance of gender-proofing [the] definitions of talent, if female talent is not to be overlooked or lost. Indeed, research suggests that by deconstructing the meaning of ‘potential’ we can identify [a] possible gender bias.”

The report elaborates that “perceptions of ‘drive’ and ‘commitment’ might reflect male norms and values, such as displaying 24/7 priority to the job or the organization, overt ambition, and go-getting styles.” Several studies, cited internally in the report, have found a particularly negative manifestation of this bias: women do not, “stand the same chances as men of being offered developmental opportunities crucial to their progression to senior roles.”

In addition to gender proofing the criteria for high potential, those at Cranfield, recommend reviewing the diversity of those within executive leadership talent pools.

“In the light of this evidence, a good practice … is to separate the conversations about performance and potential,” says the report. This may give women the opportunity to discuss a lack of developmental opportunities or possible gender bias in work allocation.”

At a practical level this could very well translate into separate performance and talent reviews — which could be an incredibly beneficial first step to making critical inroads in cultivating corporate environments conducive to the advancement of executive women.

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