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What is a ‘Peter problem’? Jaw-dropping study of U.K. CEOs reveals more named Peter than women

The U.S. has a John, Robert, Michael, William and James problem.

What is a ‘Peter problem’? Jaw-dropping study of U.K. CEOs reveals more named Peter than women
[Photo: Abel Pérez/Unsplash; James Giddins/Unsplash]

Did you know that there are more CEOs named Peter leading top U.K. companies than female CEOs? This and other jaw-dropping findings come in a new report on U.K. corporate leadership among 350 companies on the FTSE index. The research was conduced by diversity and inclusion consultancy The Pipeline. Here are just a few insights:

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  • Over two-thirds of the companies do not have any female executive committee members in so-called “rainmaker” roles, with profit-and-loss responsibility
  • 15% have entirely male executive committees
  • Companies with executive committees that are more than 1/3rd female have net profit margins over 10x greater than companies with no women
  • Only 16% of CFOs are women

Though numbers of women on executive committees have improved by 2.7% since last year, a dive into the data shows that those improvements are not coming from top 100 companies, and frequently represent women going into non-P&L roles like human resources, marketing, and legal, often at companies that were already making headway toward gender balance.

The outlook is not good: “At the current rate, we will miss another generation of female talent before we have any hope of parity,” write the authors. They say this because having a woman at the top spurs more gender balance below: Women-led companies have executive committees that average one-third female, while those of male-led companies are one-fifth female.

Which brings us to the Peter problem: In the FTSE 100, there are five female CEOs, and six CEOs named Peter.

In the U.S., this is known as the John problem: There are more CEOs named John leading Fortune 500 firms than women CEOs. Roughly 3% of the population is named John. Over 50% of the population is female. Similar claims can usually be made in the U.S., by the way, for Roberts, Jameses, Williams, and Michaels.

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