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Ksenia Penchukova is originally from Russia. She joined Oxford Brookes Business School in April 2016 and her thesis title is 'Under-representation of female executive directors on company boards'.
I found Oxford Brookes University through my own internet search, which was mainly driven by the area that I picked for my PhD research project: leadership and gender diversity.
When I was selecting a University for my doctorate, I had several criteria in mind. Firstly, the quality and reputation of the University were important to me. Here the credibility, variety of disciplines and the diversity of student profiles at Oxford Brookes stood out. Secondly, I wanted to find an educational institution with academic expertise in the area of my research: gender diversity and women leadership, and I found the Centre for Diversity Policy Research and Practice, established at Oxford Brookes University in 2004. Led by Professor Simonetta Manfredi, the centre specialises in research on equality and diversity within organisations. I also have an opportunity to tap into the expertise of Oxford Brookes Business School and my Director of Studies, Dr Louise Grisoni, when it comes to academic and management resources.
Prior to embarking on my PhD journey, I worked in Human Resources management roles with several multinational organisations. Recruitment and talent development have always played a large part in my responsibilities. This is where I got closely acquainted with diversity and equality, which gave rise to my interest in the topic of my research: why there are so few women in directorship roles in the UK’s private sector, in comparison to the number of men.
At the beginning I was a little anxious about my transition. After all, I was ‘putting on hold’ my full-time corporate career, relocating abroad and embarking on a three-year academic experience. But the support that I have received from the various teams at Oxford Brookes University has been great from the very beginning. I was particularly impressed by the library resources, as well as the training and development courses that are available at the University.
The main purpose of my research study is to explore the issue of gender diversity in the UK’s corporate sector. Specifically, I am looking to evaluate the problem of women’s under-representation at the leadership echelons of UK publicly listed businesses with a primary focus on the executive director level of UK FTSE 100 organisations.
The FTSE-100 is an index consisting of the 100 largest, ‘blue chip’ businesses listed on the London Stock Exchange. These top 100 companies were chosen for the study because of their influence on the UK’s society and because these firms tend to set the standard for policies and practices across the UK’s corporate sector.
The focus on the executive directorship level was chosen for two reasons. Firstly, women’s representation at executive director level of UK’s FTSE-100 boards remains very low. The number of female executive directors on FTSE-100 boards decreased over the recent years, while women’s representation at non-executive director level grew. Secondly, a lot of attention has been recently attributed to women’s representation at non-executive director level, but little comparison has been made over the level of their direct and impactful contribution to business in comparison to women non-executive directors.
This study will explore whether it is the gender diversity at executive director level that adds equal, if not greater, value to organisations and, therefore, is the level where female representation should be targeted and improved.
In my research study I set out to identify the main causes of women’s under-representation at the executive directorship level of the FTSE 100 companies in the UK. I aim to do so by exploring and comparing the experiences of a number of female executive directors and a group of male Chief Executive Officers in order determine the barriers and obstacles that prevent women from progressing in their careers.
While being a research student, I particularly enjoy the opportunity to combine the theoretical dimension with practical. In my research project I first look at the academic perspective and explore the various theories and schools of thought that are out there. Then through fieldwork, I am able to assess these theories against people’s real-life experiences and provide evidence-based explanations.
When it comes to day-to-day challenges, I have found self-discipline a critical element to master. There is a lot of predictability and structure in the corporate world; less so in the world of PhD research study. You shape your own day, month, year. You drive your own motivation. You define and manage your own priorities. Flexibility and self-discipline is key.
I find the training options that are offered at Brookes abundant. These are offered at both the University level (across all research disciplines), and at Faculty level. The topics are numerous: from resume writing to Myers–Briggs personality test; from presentation skills to media training; from time management to managing your supervisor workshops, just to name a few. In addition, there are numerous debates, presentations, talks and conferences running throughout the year. These are well communicated and open to all.
At the moment, I plan to return to the corporate world after completing my PhD. However, I am also keen to explore a possible career in academia – time will tell.