Development priorities

Women on the move

the impact of leadership programmes

by Kim Evans

This essay looks at the key findings of research commissioned by the Cultural Leadership Programme on the challenges facing women leaders.  After an overview of context, the research explores the impact that CLP initiatives have had on female participants, focussing particularly on the on-going issues of: confidence; the importance of networks; raising the profile of women in the sector; the need for flexible working; and the role of governance.

On confidence: The commissioned research confirmed that women’s lack of confidence in their ability to lead is a significant impediment to their progress. CLP offerings ensured a focus on personal as well as professional development, and as a result ‘increased self-confidence’ is one of the terms most used by participants to describe the legacy of their engagement with the Programme.

On networks: CLP recognised that by supporting women’s professional networks, it could help women create for themselves the kind of confidence-building support that men often provide for each other.  It has done this through supporting and initiating women’s networks such as the Women Leaders in Museums Network as well as through a variety of events and debates.

On visibility: Taking on board the recommendation made in the Women at the Top provocation paper, CLP recognised the need for greater visibility for women - to celebrate their success and help to create female role models for younger women.  It responded with the Women to Watch initiative, which celebrated the achievements of 50 female cultural leaders who have already made a noticeable impact within the sector and are rising ever higher.

On work/life balance: The research showed that only 75% of women saw their future as senior leaders, against 100% of men and it appeared that for a variety of reasons women were opting out of the senior roles and the lifestyle that often went with them. Perhaps more shockingly, 61% of female leaders had never had a career break and the majority of those interviewed felt that taking a break to have children was a serious issue affecting a woman’s career progress.

On governance: Change in the creative and cultural sector needs to be supported at the very top, both to address current concerns about diminishing opportunities for women generally in the workplace, and to create a more flexible approach to working. Many would argue that what is required is more long-term thinking as well as a more ‘feminine’ approach to leadership, typically characterised by balance, transparency, fairness, social responsibility, accountability and sustainability.

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