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Academic bar higher for female leaders

Russell Group and Ivy League graduate leaders more likely to be female

The academic bar is set far higher for female leaders than male leaders in the FTSE 100, according to research from Green Park.

The Leadership 10k report found that of those in top 20 positions in the FTSE 100 who graduated from a Russell Group university, 76% are female. Seven in 10 (70%) leaders who graduated from an Ivy League university are female.

Overall, this means women are three times more likely to need a qualification from a prestigious university to gain a board position in the UK than men.

In the UK 24 universities make up the Russell Group, including Oxford and Cambridge. The Ivy League is formed of eight US colleges, including Harvard and Yale.

The researchers found that while efforts by FTSE 100 companies to increase their number of female non-executive directors continue to show noticeable results, there is a further decline in the number of female executive directors in a board position.

Just over a third (35%) of non-executive directors are women compared to a tenth (10%) of executive directors. According to targets set out in the recent Hampton-Alexander review, FTSE 100 firms aim to have at least 33% of their executive pipeline filled by women by 2020.

Raj Tulsiani, co-founder and CEO of Green Park, said women face a disadvantage from the very beginning. “It’s encouraging to see further progress towards gender diversity on the boards of our biggest companies,” he said. “However, the fact that the vast majority of leaders with an education from Russell Group or Ivy League universities were women shows that female leaders need to achieve more than men before they even start their careers. We must work harder to improve holistic gender equality in business.”

Janet Royall, former opposition leader of the House of Lords, said she was concerned by the findings. “The fact that successful female leaders need to aim higher academically than men to secure senior roles further highlights the need for increased attention on educational profiling and gender equality in business,” she said.

“There’s a long way to go before there is a truly level playing field for men and women in business and it’s important for the UK’s largest companies to recognise that they may be missing out on strong leaders by putting such focus on university hierarchy.”