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Women in leadership: Analyzing employee reviews of female-led companies

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, female leadership has proven highly effective. New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen are just some of the female world leaders who have been praised for their systematic handling of the crisis. 

But was this the case in the world of business? At the beginning of 2020, a mere 5% of FTSE 100 companies were steered by female CEOs. But how exactly did employees in female-led companies review their working environment in 2020?

At Relative Insight, we’re in the world of language. So, we used text analysis to explore this question. We compared employee reviews from ITV, GlaxoSmithKline and Severn Trent – companies that were part of the FTSE 100 in 2020, with female CEOs steering the ship. The linguistic differences in company reviews highlight the unique positives of each business, along with areas that could be improved.


In 2017, Emma Walmsley became GSK’s Chief Executive. Despite being the highest-paid female CEO in the FTSE 100, she only earns a tenth of the highest-paid male CEO, Tim Steiner of Ocado Group. While the gender gap pay is nothing new, women face countless other barriers in the workplace such as gender bias and lack of support. However, under Walmsley’s leadership, GSK employees are 2.5x more likely to talk about the abundance of opportunities and career growth at GSK.

Great culture, friendly environment

GSK employees are 3.5x more likely to use positive adjectives such as amazing, fantastic, and excellent to describe the company cultureHowever, looking at similarities, we can see that all three female-led companies are equally as likely to reference the people and friendly environment of their workplace. Is this a result of female leadership? Kate Stevens, European boss of public relations firm AxiCom, thinks so: “You show people the reality of the world you’re living in, and they can empathise with you and they support you more.”

Room for improvement: Lack of diversity

GSK employees are 6.8x more likely than the other companies analysed to discuss the lack of diversity within the company. In the future, GSK could look towards diversifying talent and introducing policies to avoid discrimination.


A fun place to work

Carolyn McCall made history when she was appointed ITV’s first female Chief Executive. While 2020 was a year of upset and uncertainty for many, ITV employees were 21.6x more likely to describe the company as a fun place to work. Even though the media industry is known for its balance of work and play, these reviews from 2020 suggest that ITV kept spirits high during the pandemic, retaining the fun element of the company.

People focussed

Secondly, ITV reviews were heavily people focussed. In fact, employees were 4.6x more likely to use the phrase great people when referring to their team. This positively reflects ITV’s recruitment process, showing that the company attracts and hires people in line with their values.

Room for improvement: Difficult to progress

ITV employees discussed the idea that people often stay too long in their roles, which makes it harder to progress. Equipped with this information, ITV may devote increased focus to facilitating internal progression.

Severn Trent

Work-life balance

Liv Garfield was appointed CEO of Severn Trent in 2014. In an interview, she stated that “Empathy is absolutely critical for CEOs.” This is reflected in employee reviews; people were 6x more likely to mention that Severn Trent displays great care for their staff. The phrase mental health also appeared infinitely more in this data set, with employees feeling it is taken seriously.

Job security

Another great aspect of Severn Trent is job security, a topic which was completely absent in employee reviews of ITV and GSK. Job security is a huge positive for employees, and also reflects the stability of the company.

Room for improvement: Emphasis on statistics

As a water utility service, customer service is a big part of Severn Trent’s operations. However employees felt that there was a heavy emphases on statistics and performance, with little training for the role. To improve this aspect of the business, Severn Trent could update their training program and focus more time on ensuring employees know how to achieve their targets.

Language comparison can help companies benchmark their employee experience and support long term retention in the workplace. By analysing employee reviews, companies can better shape their internal communications and use these insights to develop systems which tackle any issues head on.

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