Female leadership – Is it ever too early to focus on it?

Female leadership – Is it ever too early to focus on it?

By Helen Tuddenham
Senior Consultant

This month sees the launch of “Advance”, a leadership development programme for women in professional services developed by theGrogroup. “Not another one”, you may be saying. But Advance is different in two ways:

  • Firstly, it focuses on women in professional services, complex organisations, with fluidity in forming teams, and a particular culture that focuses on hierarchy, climbing the corporate ladder and a narrow definition of success.
  • Secondly, its aim is at younger women – not those just below partner but newer managers – high enough up the ladder to have committed themselves to the profession, but not so high that the glass ceiling has yet made itself a reality.

That there is a gap between the numbers of men and women at senior levels in professional services is well known; on average, only around 25% of partner roles are held by women. The year I was made up to Director at one of the Big Four, we joked that in my division, even though 13 of us reached that milestone, there were more men called Jonathan (3) than the total number of women (2). In the UK, the gender pay gap in accountancy is thought to be around 10-15%, whilst in top law firms, it can be as high as 50 or 60%.

I have written a blog in the past about how this problem won’t be fixed until organisations substantially change their culture, approach to recruitment, talent management and professional development. However, equipping women to navigate and flourish in the world of professional services needs to happen before they have fallen behind their male peers and have to spend time catching up.

Mastering female leadership

Here are three key areas that women need to master at an early stage in their careers as they pursue female leadership roles:


Ten letters cannot do justice to the minefield that is confidence. It’s often used as an excuse by women or by men about women, about why there is such a gap at senior levels. Confidence comes both from within us and outside of us. Women tend to place more weight on confidence from outside of them – compliments, good performance ratings, external accolades. This is mainly circumstantial, though – it’s the confidence that comes from within us that sustains us when those external sources dwindle. The Advance programme is all about confidence, starting with understanding ourselves, our values and our strengths. Having this as a starting point enables women to look for opportunities that capitalise on those strengths proactively. Understanding where we add value and how gives us an inner sense of security that we can draw on and that others will notice.


Doing a good job and expecting people to notice may work for you at school when everything you do is deliberately seen and graded by your teacher. In the more fluid teams in professional services, those responsible for promotion and pay may not naturally see all you do. Managing performance is only part of their job and is likely to be one that many are uncomfortable with. So make it easy for them. Be proud of your achievements, finding a way of sharing them that feels authentic to you. Put your hand up for opportunities to speak at an event, take on a stretch assignment or get involved in a proposal for work. It’s what your male colleagues have been conditioned to do.


Women’s advancement at work is not a scarcity game, and there are enough fulfilling senior-level roles for everyone. Having a community of supportive women of a similar stage in their career gives you a sounding board to bounce ideas off, a forum where you can share ideas and plans, and a group of women that will help encourage you and drive you forward, even when the going gets tough. The Advance programme builds this in with your own future-focused female family of individuals to help you succeed.

Female leadership – it is never too early to focus on it

I am proud to be part of the team delivering this innovative programme for younger women. If you work in professional services, in any part of the globe, and want to retain your female talent, then firms need to start focusing on their female leadership and should have a strategy to develop young women executives into leadership roles, through mentoring and education and learning programmes.

Our Advance programme is a unique leadership development programme focusing on building confidence, and designed specifically for women. Take a look at our Advance programme here or get in touch to find out more.

Take a look at our webpage that highlights how theGrogroup’s six month Advance programme will help develop your future women leaders.

The programme lead is Kielan Tayler and is supported by our amazing team of strong women – please email Kielan to find out more.