UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


UNC Kenan-Flagler study finds gaps in views of companies’ efforts to develop women leaders


Perceptions about companies’ effectiveness at recruiting, retaining and developing women in their firms vary between men and women and their level in their organizations, according to a survey conducted by The University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School.

 UNC Kenan-Flagler surveyed women and men in senior leadership roles in the United States, Brazil, China and India about the effectiveness of their organizations in recruiting, retaining and developing women.

 “Significant gaps exist in the ways that business leaders view their firms’ efforts to develop women business leaders,” said Susan Cates, associate dean of executive development at UNC Kenan-Flagler. “These differing perceptions can cause unintended consequences for companies, which need to be aware that these gaps exist and ensure that perceptions match reality in their organizations.”

Respondents perceived a positive trend in the number of women holding senior leadership positions in their companies.

  • About half (48 percent) believe the number has increased over the past five years, while 15 percent believe it has decreased.
  • There was a correlation between the respondents’ level in organization and their perception of the increase of women in leadership positions in their companies: 60 percent of C-suite executives reported an increase over the last five years compared to 38 percent of managers.   
  • When asked how the number of women holding senior leadership positions will change in the next five years the answers were less clear. While 40 percent of respondents believed the number will increase, 28 percent believed it will stay the same, and 30 percent did not know if it will decrease, increase or stay the same.
  • Men had a more positive outlook than their female counterparts. Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of male respondents believed the number of women in leadership positions in their companies has increased over the past five years and 57 percent believe the number will continue to increase over the next five years. This is significantly higher than the 44 percent and 36 percent, respectively, reported by female respondents.

 Only 11 percent of respondents believe their organizations are extremely effective in recruiting women executives while 14 percent stated their companies were not at all effective. 

  • The more senior the respondent the more positive the view on their company’s recruiting efforts. Over half (53 percent) of C-suite executives said firms were extremely or moderately effective compared to 28 percent of managers.

 Overall, the survey findings indicate that companies are doing an effective job in retaining women executives, though perceptions gaps persist.

  • Males believe their companies are more effective in retaining woman than females. While 73 percent of men believe their company is extremely or moderately effective only 52 percent of women feel similarly.
  • There is also a correlation between management level and belief in effectiveness of retention of women. Over two-thirds (68 percent) of C-suite executives stated extremely or moderately effective compared to 44 percent among managers

 Companies create an organizational climate that is doing only a moderate job in its support of the development of women leaders, according to respondents.

  • Over one-third (38 percent) indicated the organizational climate at their companies “moderately encourages” the development of women leaders, while 28 percent responded “to a small extent” and 22 percent responded “to a great extent.”
  • As with the previous findings, men have a more favorable view of the organizational culture’s encouragement of women leaders. In addition, the more senior the respondents, the more likely they were to give their company higher marks with regard to the organizational culture’s encouragement of women leaders.

 Business leaders should test perceptions within their own firms and address any gaps, said Mindy Storrie, director of leadership development at UNC Kenan-Flagler. “Review and evaluate the effectiveness of your firm’s leadership development and retention programs. Are you attracting, promoting and retaining the best?”

The survey findings are based on the responses of 925 talent development managers and C-suite executives. To view the full survey results and read an article about developing women leaders in business, go to http://www.kenan-flagler.unc.edu/executive-development/custom-programs/white-papers.


About The University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School

Consistently ranked one of the world's best business schools, UNC Kenan-Flagler is known for its extraordinary learning experiences and innovative research, and developing results-driven leaders who use business as an engine for global change. UNC Kenan-Flagler prepares people at every stage of their careers to manage successfully in the global business environment through its five MBA programs (full-time residential, Evening and Weekend MBA Programs for Executives, global OneMBA® and online MBA@UNC); Master of Accounting; undergraduate business; PhD; non-degree Executive Development; and the UNC Business Essentials certificate program. Its Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise helps business and government tackle problems with impact on society through its operations at UNC and in Bangkok.


Media contact: Allison Adams, 1-919-962-7235, aadams@unc.edu

Survey contact: Kip Kelly, 1-919-843-6061, kip_kelly@kenan-flagler.unc.edu