‘Society sees being male as the acceptable form of leadership.’ Kirsty Kew talks to Suzanne Ross about gender equality in the boardroom, and looks to see how well represented women are in Nottinghamshire’s biggest companies.

Much is made of the gender pay gap, but another serious issue is the lack of gender balance in the boardroom. In the UK, statistics published in The Guardian show that just under 23% of boardroom roles in FTSE 100 companies are occupied by women. But why does this inequality exist?

Suzanne Ross is a senior lecturer at Nottingham Business School, and is working on a PhD that focuses on the characteristics of talented and successful leaders, as well as how they turn their talent into success.

On the topic of why gender inequality exists in boardrooms, Ms. Ross says “The lack of women in these roles is due to a complex cocktail of things, such as individual preferences, as well as their upbringing and what they were taught as a little girl about taking charge and leading.

“There is also the way society sees being male as the acceptable face of leadership.”

In male-dominated industries, which include engineering, technology and and construction, there are more men in the workforce, and so when it comes to promoting staff to leadership roles, there is already a massive gender gap.

So, what is the situation like in Nottingham? To try and answer this question, the make-up of the board of directors of five of the biggest companies based in Nottinghamshire were looked at ti see just how well represented women are.

The most well-known of these companies is Boots the Chemist. Starting in the city in the 1800s, there are now more than 2,500 Boots stores across the United Kingdom and Ireland, with the company employing nearly 6,500 people at its offices in Beeston.

As well as being the most famous, Boots is also the most gender-equal company that we have looked at. As well as a third of the board of directors of its umbrella company, the Walgreen Boots Alliance, being women, the companies co-Chief Operating Officer is female, and last year Elizabeth Fagan took over as head of the UK and Ireland sector of the company.

Wilko Retail, based in Worksop, fares well too. Lisa Wilkinson, the third generation of the family to helm the company, is the director. She herself describes her role as being there to ‘represent and maintain the values of the family owners in the boardroom.’  However, the other companies that were looked at weren’t quite so equal.

Sports Direct, owned and run by Mike Ashley, has just a single woman in its board of directors. Claire Jenkins is a non-executive director, and the sole female out of six board members.

Pendragon PLC, one of the leading car retailers in the United Kingdom, have headquarters based in Annesley. Their holdings, such as Evans Halshaw, allow the company to maintain a £4billion annual turnover. However, they have just one female on their board, this time out of seven members. Gillian Kent is, like Claire Jenkins above, a non-executive director.

The final company being looked at is Experian. The business information group was founded in Nottingham more than 35 years, and has two women on its board of directors. They make up 20% of the board, putting the company closer to the UK average.

Looking at all the companies mentioned together, women make up just over 22% of their boards, meaning the companies are pretty much spot-on the UK average. So, what can be done to try and improve things?

Ms. Ross, who owns 2thrive Consultancy alongside her role at the business school, has a suggestion for this.

She says: ‘Women need to see good female role models. If everywhere they look leadership is either male or a superwoman, it’s hard to relate to that as something that is achievable or desirable.”

Ms. Ross adds that companies need to recognise and value the different strengths that women bring to leadership, as that would enable women to succeed as women, rather than having to become ‘she-men’ and adopt a more masculine style of leadership in order to fit in.

With the number of women in boardroom roles in the UK almost doubling in the past five year, clearly progress is being made. And while there is still quite a way to go before women are fully represented in the higher levels of company management, there can be no doubt that we are heading in the right direction.