The Balancing Act: a study of how to balance the talent pipeline

October 8, 2013

Inspire, Harvey Nash’s network for board-level women, looks into why so few women sit on boards and executive committees. 

Read the full report by downloading The Balancing Act: how to balance the talent pipeline in business.

Where are all the women?
The start of 2013 has been marked by a number of high-profile calls for companies to be more transparent in their reporting on the number of women on boards and in business. Not only has the Financial Reporting Council (the UK’s independent regulator of corporate governance and reporting) requiring all companies to disclose the number of female and diversity executives they employ, but there is also increasing demand for female executive talent.
At the World Economics Forum in Davos earlier this year, Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) spoke about ‘inclusive growth’. Visionary companies, she said, need ot make investing in women a pillar of their business and talent management strategy. This is not about PR or ‘doing the right thing’, she pointed out, but a way to deliver real and quantifiable returns. 
Reflecting on the recent US presidential elections, a record number of women – 141 – ran for election last year, and women voters were a key focus for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Women are drivers of economic growth throughout the corporate world and government. 
A leaking talent pipeline
And yet, there is still a shortage of women in the boardroom. This reflects a deeper problem, and that is the significant number of women who leave big companies at middle and senior management level. What are the motivations for opting out of corporate life? And where are they going? Despite some improvement at non-executive director level, female executive directors are still in short supply and the reason is a ‘leaking talent pipeline’. As it stands today, the talent pool is not sustainable or strong enough to develop female talent and promote them p the corporate ladder. This continue to be a major challenge facing businesses aroudn the world, who are struggling with gaps in their succession planning.
About the participants
Our research surveyed over 600 executive directors, non-executive directors and other senior business leaders from a range of different-sized companies in different industries and different countries. There was a fairly even split between male and female respondent, and more than 90% of participants were over 40 years old. We also canvassed the opinions of a variety of business figureheads – people who have reached the very top – on what is needed to accelerate the progress of gender-balanced boards,