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C-suite culture must change if UK women are to reach their full potential, claims SHL

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Research has revealed that UK women rank fifth in the world for leadership potential, yet only 20% of women in the UK are represented in leadership roles.

The UK, where gender quotas on boards are still being discussed, stands in stark contrast to Norway, where gender quotas mean that 42% of all leadership roles are held by women. The UK ranks 19th out of 25 countries for leadership roles held by women. Norway comes in first, followed by Thailand, Italy and Hong Kong.

The research, carried out by talent analytics company, SHL and published yesterday in its SHL 2012 Talent Report, is based on data from over one million people. It measured the leadership potential of employees across 25 countries, concluding that while leadership potential is actually higher in women, the gender difference in senior positions globally is 76% in favour of men.

"With three men to every one woman being in leadership positions on average globally and men being motivated by power and fear of failure, UK boardrooms are self-perpetuating an unbalanced culture which is likely to naturally disengage women from aspiring to reach a senior position," said Eugene Burke, SHL's chief science and talent analytics officer.

He added that C-suite culture needed to change in order to attract more female leaders. "Moving away from an organisational culture framed by fear of failure to one founded on recognition for contribution and performance will be a stronger attraction for potential female leaders," Burke said.

Allan Leighton in contrast, chairman of UK TV set-top box maker, Pace said; "Quotas will kill business and have clear unintended consequences that we are already seeing in other countries. I have always believed that 50 per cent of brains are male and 50 per cent are female, the business with the most brains will succeed."

Gwen Rhys, founder of Women in the City, an organisation that promotes, recognises and awards female talent, told HR magazine that she believed boardroom culture, 'needs to change for people generally, not just women, but for men and young people too.'

"There's a reason Norway is top of the list, and it's because of the quotas," Rhys added. "I believe we should introduce quotas because it takes legislation to have change."

Burke told HR magazine: "Organisations should be clearer with employees about motivating factors and what is required for success." Rhys agreed, telling HR: "There should be more transparency in organisations about what you have to do in order to succeed, because it's not always what you think. It's not a glass ceiling - it's a concrete maze."

The SHL data was based on over one million assessments from 67 countries, carried out between 2006 and 2011.