The number of women CEOs has doubled in the last year but still only 8 percent of those are women. 

In their 8th annual survey, Heidrick & Struggles which works across the world on  executive search and leadership analysed the profiles of more than a thousand CEOs.

The findings were taken from the largest publicly-listed companies across 24 markets, including Australia, Brazil, China, Germany, Italy, Mexico, UAE, UK and the US. 

It found that while the share of female CEOs is low, the amount of newly-appointed women leaders has more than doubled to 13 percent in just 6 months.

The report says the trend suggests a move towards more progressive and inclusive policies inside the world’s top companies.  

Sharon Sands, partner in Heidrick & Struggles’ London office and co-lead of the CEO & Board of Directors Practice said the number of women leader appointments from other industries has also doubled:  “This shows that the skill set required is not-necessarily industry specific and can be transferred as required.”


Record number of CEO appointments 

In general, the report also found there were a record number of new CEO appointments made in the first six months of 2021. This, it says, is a sure sign of booming business confidence, after a turbulent year due to Covid-19.

With more companies being urged to upskill to retain workers, the report aslo identified a clear shift towards internal promotions for the top job vs. external hires. This was up 62 percent vs. 53 percent year on year. 

Kit Bingham from Heidrick & Struggles said the new CEOs appointed over the past year in the UK have different skills from their predecessors and are more likely to be women, suggesting a trend toward more female hires in leadership across the board.

Kit said: “The new breed of CEOs are more likely than their predecessors to be women, to be non-nationals, to have cross-border experience and to have advanced degrees.”


A timely appointment 

However, the average tenure of a UK CEO – just under 6 years – is less than across the rest of Europe and the rest of the world – almost 7 years. 

Interestingly, the report found the age of appointment is consistent across the world at 49 years old. 

Only 17 percent of UK CEOs are appointed before their 45th birthday – across the rest of the world, 25 percent of people are appointed before they turn 45. 

Another difference with UK CEO appointments is the willingness to appoint leaders from other countries – nearly half of UK CEOs are from overseas. Across the continent and around the world it’s only 27 percent  and 24 percent respectively. 

Steve Butler, the author of the new HR book Inclusive Cultures  told HR Review workplaces must adapt to improve their diversity and keep up with other businesses:

He said in a workplace where there were no women or ethnic minorities: “You have a group-think – a kind of collective thinking, because there is no one else giving a different perspective. This stifles innovation and creates risks within the business.”



The Heidrick & Struggles survey can be found here