Women in L&D – Still Not At The Top

If you want a position of authority in L&D, you have more chance if you’re a man. That was the conclusion of some research carried out three years ago, and it remains the same today – only more so.

If you’re a woman, you can improve your odds of rising up the company ladder in a few ways. You can work in the right sector (for a charity, for example, not an IT company), or you can work in a larger company, but even so, the odds are against you. In every decade of their working lives, the women among the 2,635 L&D professionals that I examined are between 5% and 11% less likely than men to be in positions of authority.

My thanks are due to the LPI’s Learning Professional of the Year, Sharon Claffey Kaliouby, for prompting me to re-visit this analysis in time for International Women’s Day, 8th March 2018.

Here’s a summary of the main points in an infographic:

Key results

These conclusions come from looking at anonymized data for 2,635 members of the Learning and Skills Group, a free online community that I chair. This group is split 45% female, 55% male. Across this population, the split was roughly 2:1 (F-M) in support roles, 1:1 in mid-level roles and 1:2 (F-M) in leadership roles.

When I last ran these numbers, in June 2015, leadership roles were split 34%-66% in favour of men. This year, the split was 31%-69%.

The analysis

On registration, members of the group are asked to provide data about themselves including optional questions on job title, date of birth and gender. Of the 2,945 members providing data about gender, 2,635 had jobs that related to L&D and which could be identified as falling into one of four groups using key words in the job title provided:

Senior-authority roles included the words: Director, CEO, Head, Partner, President, VP, Chief, MD, CLO, Founder, Owner, Chairman and General Manager.

Mid-authority roles included: Lead, Manager, Senior, Supervisor, Officer.

Support roles included: Administrator, Assistant, Coordinator.

Practitioner roles included any one of 18 terms, the most common of which were Consultant, Trainer and Designer.

Where a job title included words from more than one set of job titles, that person was generally put into the higher level of responsibility. For example, ‘Chief Learning Officer’ fell into both the mid-level (‘officer’) and senior-level (‘chief’) categories, and was assigned to the senior-authority category.

The effects of age

At each decade of their working life, the women in our group were less likely than the men to be in a senior-authority job. The difference ranges from 5% in their 20s to 11% by the time they hit their 50s:

Splits across sectors

If fewer women are moving into senior-authority jobs, the effect is not uniform across all sectors. Uniquely, of the 18 male and female high-authority members from the charity sector, a majority were women: 10. The predominance of women was repeated across all job levels. Of the 117 members from this sector, 70 were women (60%), and 47 (40%) were men.

The banking finance or insurance sector illustrated the most dramatic evidence of a glass ceiling between mid- and senior-level roles. Of the 52 mid-level authority roles, 63% were held by women and 37% by men, but of the 39 senior-authority roles, 31 were held by men and just 8 (21%) by women.

This split between the sexes in senior-authority roles was echoed in education (107 senior-authority members) and the IT industry (62). In the former, the female-male split was 30:70, in the latter it was 27:73.

Isn’t the US different?

It is often claimed that there are more women in L&D in the USA than in the UK, and in one respect this is true in this group. Across the 131 US members, the number of women in mid-authority roles was noticeably higher than in the UK. The US women claimed 57% of the mid-level roles, against 48% for their colleagues in the UK.

In another, important respect, however, there is no difference. The share of senior-authority L&D jobs taken by women in the US and the UK is the same: just 30%.

Size matters

Women appear more likely to achieve senior-authority roles in larger organisations, as can be seen from the Female – Male gender splits across different sizes of employers:

100 – 500 employees           32% – 65% (n=50)

501 – 1,000 employees        15% – 85% (n=27)

1,001 – 5,000 employees     42% – 58% (n=64)


There are differences between sectors and geographies, and across organizations of different sizes, but one thing remains clear – the 1,188 women in this group of learning and development professionals are under-represented in senior-authority roles. There appears to be a glass ceiling separating mid-authority roles (where women can be seen in abundance in some areas – eg in Banking, and in the US) and those roles that command greater authority.


The findings of this investigation mirror those of June, 2015, but are taken from the same group of L&D professionals – a self-selecting group, based largely (78%) in the UK. This brings with it limitations. It would be useful to have other groups conduct and share the same explorations of their membership data.

Note on protecting anonymity and avoiding bias

Every effort was made to protect individuals from being identified as a result of this research. The first step after the initial download of membership data from the online site was to strip out the names, emails and birth date information. No individuals have been alluded to in this or any summary of the research results.

In addition, I hid the field holding gender information from view while I worked on the data, and randomized the records so they were in no particular order. It was impossible to tell from looking at the records whether they referred to a man or a woman.

Access the full infographic here

About the author – Donald H Taylor:

Donald  is a veteran of the learning, skills and human capital industries, with experience at every level from delivery to chairman of the board.

A recognised commentator and organiser in the fields of workplace learning and learning technologies, Donald is passionately committed to helping develop the learning and development profession.

Chairman of the Learning and Performance Institute since 2010, his background ranges from training delivery to managing director and vice-president positions in software companies. Donald took his own internet-based training business from concept to trade sale in 2001 and has been a company director during several other acquisitions. Now based in London, he has lived and travelled extensively outside the UK and now travels regularly internationally to consult and speak about workplace learning.

He is focused on skills development and technology, and in particular on making sure that people and businesses have the skills they need. Donald believes this is best supported by using technology effectively – that is by understanding business needs and concentrating on engaging both learners and managers rather than concentrating on technical details and new features.

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1 Comment
  1. Henry Stewart 2 years ago

    Don, well done on doing this analysis. These figures are truly shocking and understated by your %.

    While 11% more men are in role, the figures are 15% and 26%, meaning a man is 73% more likely to get to that leadership position than a woman.

    And in their 20s (presumably before there is any of the parental leave issues that economists sometimes illustrate), it is 0% for somen, 5% for men.

    Thats a 5% difference but it means fully 100% of the L&D people who get into leadership in their 20s are men.

    These industries need a major shake up. Come on, bankers, you should hang your heads in shame at the figures in your sector. What is being done to deal with the blatent sexism at work here.

    Love to hear other thoughts


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