Women and Diversity in the boardroom

Katherine Shipton looks at our most recent Captains of Industry and International Women's Day surveys and finds very significant misperceptions around equality for women in the boardroom.

Women and Diversity in the boardroom

The author(s)

  • Katherine Shipton Ipsos Loyalty, UK
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2018 marks 100 years of women’s suffrage in the UK. But while this milestone is celebrated, in the last few months alone, the media has been dominated by gender issues, both in and outside of the workplace. Two new Ipsos surveys highlight that, while the rhetoric may be improving, there is little real change and very significant public misperceptions around equality for women in the boardroom.

Ipsos MORI’s latest Captains of Industry survey finds that two-thirds (67%) of 100 leading UK businesses have no female executive members on their main boards, effectively unchanged from 2016 when it stood at 71%. The overall percentage of women on Captains’ executive boards stands at 15%, just one percentage point different compared to 2016 (14%).

A 27-country study conducted in partnership with International Women’s Day (IWD) shows that we hugely overestimate the extent to which women are represented in business leadership. While more accurate than most other countries surveyed, Britons still estimate that 12% of CEOs in the largest 500 companies around the world are women, when the actual figure is just 3%. However, 63% of people agree that things would work better if more women held positions with greater responsibility in government and business organisations.

With #TimesUp and #PressForProgress campaigns making waves in the news, and with mandatory publication of gender pay gaps this April, gender equality is something that Captains are reflecting on. Of the 100 Captains surveyed, 71% say their company is actively trying to increase the number of women on their main board; indicatively this is a positive change from 64% in 2016. Meanwhile, 88% of Captains say that they actively promote and champion diversity in their company, which again remains largely in line with last year (86%). Across both measures, there has been a larger increase in the proportion that strongly agree with the statements, suggesting that diversity is at least becoming more of a priority.

Captains are focusing most heavily on targeted recruitment, with more than two-fifths (41%) citing this when asked what they are doing to increase the number of women on their main board. Mentoring, positive discrimination and implementing new policies were also mentioned by 13% of Captains.

The IWD study illustrates we hugely overestimate the pace of change on pay and economic equality. In Britain, people think equal pay will be achieved in 2035, whereas Forbes has estimated it will take 82 years longer – with parity finally being reached in 2117. Perhaps most demonstrative of how far there is to go is the dearth of female faces among the ‘most admired business people’ in the UK, as recorded in our Captains of Industry survey. Dame Carolyn McCall is the only woman named in the top 10, this year ranking behind the likes of Sir James Dyson, Sir Martin Sorrell and Sir Richard Branson.

The numbers for women in the boardroom are moving in the right direction, albeit slowly. Emphasis must now be placed on ensuring that the Captains’ rhetoric becomes reality.

Technical notes

Captains of Industry 2017

  • This report presents findings of the 2017 study of Captains of Industry, widely acknowledged as the authoritative source of opinion on Britain's business elite
  • Respondents are Chairmen, Chief Executive Officers, Managing Directors/Chief Operating Officers, Financial Directors or other executive board directors
  • Companies are from:
    • top 500 industrials by turnover;
    • top 100 financial companies by capital employed
  • A total of 100 respondents took part
  • Fieldwork was conducted September –  December 2017; 93 interviews were conducted face-to-face and 7 by telephone

International Women’s Day

  • In total 19,428 were interviewed between 26 January – 9 February, 2018. The survey was conducted in 27 countries around the world via the Ipsos Online Panel system (Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, France, Great Britain, Germany, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and the USA).
  • Approximately 1000 individuals aged 16-64 or 18-64 were surveyed in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Italy, Japan, Russia, Spain, Great Britain, and the USA. Approximately 500 individuals aged 16-64 were surveyed in Argentina, Belgium, Chile, Hungary, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Turkey.
  • The precision of Ipsos online polls are calculated using a credibility interval with a poll of 1,000 accurate to +/- 3.5 percentage points and of 500 accurate to +/- 5.0 percentage points.
  • The “actual” data for each question is taken from a variety of verified sources. A full list of sources/links to the actual data can be found here.
  • Data are weighted to match the profile of the population. 16 of the 27 countries surveyed generate nationally representative samples in their countries (Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Poland, Serbia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, and United States). Brazil, Chile, China, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Turkey produce a national sample that is considered to represent a more affluent, connected population.  These are still a vital social group to understand in these countries, representing an important and emerging middle class. 

The author(s)

  • Katherine Shipton Ipsos Loyalty, UK

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