We live in the greatest era of technological advancement, with easy and quick access to global information and resources, at our finger tips, when we want and wherever we want, supplied from our pockets and bags on various devices. We engage with social platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and many more apps that provide us with instant access to search for new jobs. Thousands of opportunities are available to us with just a few clicks like never before and this is even before we reach out to our network.

Recently, the BBC reported national statistics that unemployment has fallen to it’s lowest level in 18 months. This growth continues with The Guardian reporting that 35.4% of women occupying non-executive director positions in FTSE 100 companies – an all-time high!

The reality is seemingly different. In 2018 there has been a decline for women in FTSE 250 firms holding a full-time executive position, specifically a drop by 8 women, from 38 positions in 2017 to just 30 in 2018. An alarming decline, especially when the focus is following Lord Davies’s 2015 target to have 33% of females on executive boards by 2020.

What is it that stops women putting themselves forward for executive board positions?

The global workforce is made up of 40% women of which 24 % are in senior management roles. So, what is it that stops women putting themselves forward for executive board positions, instead of opting for non-executive roles? We may even go as far as to say the problem stems from even earlier down the career ladder at senior management level.

Commentary on social media would suggest that women shy away from promotion, specialist secondments, projects or transfers. Businesses are the best they have ever been at creating flexible working opportunities. Recruitment and selection processes are transparent and focus upon inclusivity and gender parity in some cases targets have even been set to ensure women transition up the career ladder, supported by various development and coaching programmes. The question remains unanswered, what is the invisible challenge that stops women applying for these opportunities? There are three opinions:

1. Belief and validity in a fair recruitment process
Whilst on paper the process, is legal, ethical, fair, and transparent to all. Any potential applicant who believes differently or has the slightest doubt in their mind that the selection process is biased, may give up even before applying. We call this the “why bother” factor.

2. Mental Strength
Einstein once said, “you never fail, till you stop trying”. As humans when we fail, especially if we have tried exceptionally hard we could easily lose our focus, commitment and drive to achieve our goal. Whilst it is ok to give our-selves “down time” it is the mentally strong who pick themselves up to find the next opportunity to apply again. Those with little mental strength are reluctant to make future applications and simply do not try again.

3. Confidence and self belief
The definition of confidence is a feeling of self belief that you can do well and succeed at a specific goal. Without confidence and self belief, we make success even more difficult by the negative messages we send ourselves, and in return this is played out to others in our verbal and nonverbal communications. If we don’t believe in ourselves, why should others?

The way forward.
Only a few businesses, invest in “women only” development programmes, as a focused approached to buying into the 2020 target set by Lord Davies. This is very commendable to help them to get ahead of the majority of other organisations. The spot light is now changing; are these “women only” development programmes delivering on the expectation intended when they were set up? This of course will largely depend on the objectives set and measured.

If two of the top three reasons women fail in securing executive board positions directly relate to factors that actuality stop them applying, surely these factors must without any doubt be addressed first, in advance of developing skills and knowledge which is subject specific.