Women still find it hard to smash glass ceiling

Average chief executive is still a fiftysomething man as women struggle to get on boards

Ambitions of being a chief executive? Forget it if you're female.

The average chief executive of a leading British company remains a 53-year-old male with a background in finance, according to the annual Robert Half CEO tracker.

The research, published today, shows that there are just three female chief executives in the FTSE 100 index. The percentage of women joining boards generally has declined slightly to 17.3 per cent from 17.4 per cent.

The lingering inability of women to gain significant access to Britain's boardrooms comes despite efforts by the former Standard Chartered chief executive Lord Davies to get companies to voluntarily improve the situation. Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, has threatened to look again at quotas if a target of 25 per cent female representation on boards is not met by 2015.

The FTSE 100 lost two women chief executives last year as Dame Majorie Scardino stepped down at the Financial Times publisher, Pearson, and Cynthia Carroll quit the miner Anglo American, finally leaving a month ago. The budget airline easyJet's promotion to the top flight meant Carolyn McCall joined the Imperial Tobacco boss, Alison Cooper, and Burberry fashion chief, Angela Ahrendts, in a lonely trio of female leaders.

For women hankering after smashing the glass ceiling, starting out as an accountant might be the only way forward, because 52 per cent of current CEOs have an accountancy or financial management background. That compares to 21 per cent with a background in engineering or natural resources, which shouldn't come as a big surprise given the high number of natural resources companies that have found homes in London.

A further 9 per cent come from a retail/hospitality background, with 8 per cent starting out in marketing or advertising, 4 per cent in technology and 6 per cent in other industries.

Despite the transition being frowned upon on governance grounds, it is still the case that the path to the CEO's office often runs through the finance director's. Some 12 per cent of FTSE bosses moved to the top job after first being finance director at the same company.

While Oxford and Cambridge universities dominate in government, the research found that companies are hiring from a more diverse range of backgrounds. The number of "Oxbridge" graduates at the top has fallen by 28 per cent, from 21 in 2012 to 15 in 2013. But there are few youngsters, with 81 CEOs aged at least 50.

The research was done in March, using information on corporate websites and annual reports, with follow-up calls made to companies where there were gaps.

Phil Sheridan, UK managing director of Robert Half, which specialises in accountancy and finance, said: "The risk and regulation agenda is driving demand for those with finance skills who can oversee all operational reporting groups within a business. We anticipate that this demand will carry on for the foreseeable future, which means that finance continues to be a great career path for those looking to climb to the very top of the career ladder."

On the lack of diversity, he urged companies to move faster, saying: "The diversity mix is beginning to change but perhaps not quickly enough. Great talent can be found and nurtured across the gender, background and age spectrum, and companies should review their succession planning and recruitment strategies to ensure they can leverage the range of talent available."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
News
people
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Graduate Application Support Analyst

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Reach Volunteering: External Finance Trustee Needed!

Voluntary post, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Would you ...

Christine McCleave: FP&A Analyst

£36,000 - £40,000: Christine McCleave: Are you looking for a new opportunity a...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn