A Third of Professional Bodies’ Leaders are...

PARN Global News Article - 21 October 2013

A Third of Professional Bodies’ Leaders are Women

Professional Body Sector Sets the Trend for Equality in Leadership
A Third of Professional Bodies’ Leaders are Women

On average, a third of leaders of professional bodies in the UK are women. The Professional Associations Research Network (PARN) welcomes this trend towards equality in leadership as the UK prepares for the first ever Professions Week (21-27 October 2013). Professions Week aims to increase visibility of professional bodies to Government and the public, highlighting their role in helping the economy and in widening access to the professions.  

The situation within the professional body sector is quite different, with an average of one in three CEOs and members of the governing body being female.Within large private companies, the proportion of women CEOs and Board Directors is regularly reported as a cause for concern. There are still frequent reports of a lack of women in top leadership positions and the notion of a glass ceiling which women seem to rarely pass beyond.

According to a 2013 study by Cranfield University, 17% of FTSE 100 directors were women, whilst only 6% of executive directors were female and only 3% of organisations had female CEOs.

The equivalent numbers for FTSE 250 companies were not very different at 13% of directors; 5% of executive directors and still only 3% of CEOs being women.

By comparison, the proportion of women in senior positions within the professional body sector is very high. On average, 32% of those serving on governing bodies in the UK were women according to PARN’s 2012/2013 International Benchmarking Survey*. Even more striking is the fact that 36% of CEOs of professional bodies in the UK are female**. This is more than ten times higher than the proportion of CEOs in FTSE 100 or 250 companies.

When we broke our survey results down by industry, we found that professional bodies in the Health sector had a particularly high proportion of women CEOs and on governing bodies with almost half (49%) of the organisations reporting senior roles for women. In contrast, Engineering professional bodies came out with the lowest incidence with 26% female CEOs and 21% women on governing bodies. These still make FTSE companies results look poor in comparison.

There are various reasons why equality in leadership is high within the professional body sector. In the past, leaders of professional bodies tended to be members of the profession, but now the professional body sector is recognising that running professional bodies involves competencies that are quite separate from the knowledge base of the profession itself. Increasingly, those in management are being promoted from within the professional body, are coming from other professional bodies or from the private sector, and are not necessarily from connected professions.  For example, during the past year Grainia Long was appointed Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing after working in that organisation since 2007 and many large professional bodies have female CEOs such as Helen Brand of the ACCA and Toni Fazaeli of the Institute for Learning.  

A study by the Cass Business School published in July 2013, suggests another reason for the particularly high proportion of women CEOs of professional bodies. It may be that emotional intelligence and heightened risk awareness are particular qualities needed to run professional bodies as well as being what are regarded as ‘feminine characteristics’. Cass Business School predict that the three most important skills for the next generation of leaders will be emotional intelligence, flexibility and people skills.

Andy Friedman – CEO of Professional Associations Research Network commented:

“It is incredibly important for the professions as a whole to embrace equality in senior roles and it sends a positive message to see that their professional bodies are leading the way and setting a positive example.  As the organisation for the professional body sector, PARN welcomes this trend of having more women advancing into leadership roles.”

Welcoming the findings, Lorna Jack, chief executive of the Law Society of Scotland, commented:

"It is encouraging to see increasing equality in the leadership of professional bodies, including the legal sector. Currently the female:male split in the Chief Executives of European Bars Association (CEEBA), of which I am a member, is 50:50, with a number of the most recent appointments, for example in Finland and the Netherlands, being women. It is stating the obvious to say there are many very talented and capable women – as there are men – working across the professions and in other walks of life, and it is good to see that their talent and hard work is increasingly recognised and that they are rising to the top of their field on their own merit."

* NOTE: Results out of 105 responses to PARN International Benchmarking Survey completed in February 2013.

** NOTE: This number is based on the PARN database of 366 UK professional bodies in September 2013. 


Interview Opportunities

Professor Andy Friedman, CEO of PARN, is available for interview by the media. Read his bio online.
T:    0117 929 4515 (Main office)
E:    [email protected]

Other press enquiries can be dealt with via Neko Griffin - Communications Manager at PARN.
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