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2018 saw several breakthrough moments in the fight for gender equality. Greater scrutiny than ever before was placed on the gender pay gap, and questions were raised about the ‘gendering’ of certain roles in society, from childhood through to adulthood, at home and at work. Perhaps most critically of all, the burgeoning #metoo movement began to break down the power inequalities that have undermined women’s efforts to reach equal representation in so many industries.

At this critical juncture, ‘people performance’ consultancy Momentum4 commissioned a research team from Sussex Innovation to gather insights from women in leadership roles at UK companies.

The resulting Women in Leadership Report identifies some of the complex mix of societal, organisational and individual factors that are behind the gender imbalance in leadership. The report suggests strategies for businesses to begin overcoming some of these challenges, breaking the topic into three sections:

The Current Situation

Established statistics suggest that women are under-represented in leadership teams from start-ups to the FTSE100. 71% of survey respondents felt that; “unconscious bias from management” was a major factor in the imbalance, with “lack of confidence” and “career disruption due to maternity leave” also ranking highly.

Psychological Barriers and Emotional Intelligence

Confidence - or lack of it - was also the biggest psychological factor that women cited as hindering their career progression. 75% of respondents felt that this had held them back at some stage of their careers. They also saw emotional intelligence skills as a vital component of strong leadership – particularly “learning how to influence others” (67%).

Women Supporting Women?

A linguistic analysis of the responses revealed a complex picture of female relationships in the workplace. While many participants mentioned the positive support networks that women are building, others described female peers with adjectives like “undermining”, “jealous” and “aggressive”. This perhaps hints at intense competition over a limited number of leadership roles ‘for women’.

“We’re passionate about addressing the disparity between men and women in the world of business”, says Lara Williams, co-founder of Momentum4. “So much of this problem stems from the psychological hang-ups that society instils in women, reinforced by structures in the workplace. Our coaching method develops emotional intelligence, which gives teams the tools to understand each other’s perspectives and motivations. It’s a crucial first step to doing things differently.”


The full report is available to download at


The Women in Leadership Report is one of many white papers researched, written and designed by the Sussex Innovation team on behalf of its member companies.

Research is a pivotal aspect of business, helping companies to understand their marketplace, customers and competition, and underpinning strategy. It can also be a useful marketing and positioning tool, particularly for innovative start-ups who need to communicate a unique value proposition or specialist expertise.

Market Research and Insight Advisor, Dr Chloe Peacock, specialises in delivering the organisation’s qualitative research and consumer insight projects. 

“I employ an ethnographic and cultural approach to research, translating my findings for a commercial audience,” she explains. “When you have a deeper understanding of your market and how your customer navigates through it, you can optimise your model with that in mind. This is the sort of information that bigger brands always have available to them, but the costs involved would normally be prohibitive for the start-ups we work with. Luckily we are able to make these quality research resources available in a much more affordable way.”

In practice, this involves accessing industry trend reports from the range of market research platforms that Sussex Innovation subscribes to, supplemented with desk-based research and quantitative surveys – with an emphasis on securing responses from people with authority on the subject at hand. 

For the Women in Leadership Report, the team contacted hundreds of women in their network to find contributors. Ultimately more than 100 responded, with more than two-thirds in a senior position ranging from manager to director.

Chloe designs the research objectives for each project and oversees the work being conducted by a team of recent Sussex graduates, before collating it into a finished report.

“One of the most impactful things that we offer is expert insight interviews,” she adds. “Because we have the weight of the University of Sussex behind us, we’re able to reach out to people who are very well-regarded in their field and get their thoughts on a particular topic. It helps that we’re a third party, and can stay objective in a way that’s hard for our clients to do while having these sorts of conversations. Some of the richest insights about how people think and behave come by simply offering a prompt, and letting them talk.”

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