Gender Inequality at the Executive Level in the Learning System Market

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We have a problem. It appears everywhere you go in the learning system space. It is something in one way you wouldn’t expect in 2019, and yet in another way, based upon other industries such as tech, it is in alignment, and not in a plus perspective.

What I am referring to is gender at the executive level, and the low numbers of female executives in an industry which prides itself as forward-thinking.  Even worse, the number of C-level female executives compared to the male counterparts, is significantly lower, even by the percentile in the tech industry (depending on the source). 

Female executives who are non C-level continue to be placed in departments that traditionally (in the last several years in the tech industry) are common – Human Resources, Marketing and Customer Service.

Leadership development, which usually falls under Learning and Development (L&D),  an area that is heavily targeted in the learning system space, points towards a trend that should be disturbing to anyone who is seeking a system from a vendor, who pushes the L&D narrative. Overwhelmingly the ratio of males to female in leadership development programs within the learning system market (LMS, LXP, DLP, SEP, learning platform) are skewed higher towards males.


Over the past several months, a study was developed to look at the issue on whether there is equality or inequality with gender in the workplace of learning systems.  While e-learning is where learning systems fall, rather than examining the entire e-learning industry, the research looks specifically at the learning system market, which makes up a large percentile of sales. 

Vendors in the following countries, United States, Canada, Scotland, Ireland, England, Germany, France, Italy, The Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland, and India, were analyzed. Vendors of all sizes, employee wise and revenue wise, are included in the study. 

Where to Start

To try to find where the issue starts, if there is such a starting point, is to examine if the vendors in the learning system industry, have a leadership development program, and if so, what are the numbers of individuals by gender. 

Could this one area make such a difference early on, that it creates a ripple effect that in the short-term and in other cases, long-term continue to perpetuate this cycle of inequality in leadership positions?

If there are companies where the percentage of female leaders are higher than males, are there any contributing factors or is it just random?

Does department or certain departments a component? And if so, to what degree?  Can trends be identified, and if yes, what can be done to change the narrative?

The Findings

The best way to present findings, I believe is to just put it out there, and provide some level of analysis or insight into them. 

Executive Roles – Men to Women

Identifying or listing what would be considered an executive is no easy answer.  I say this because it is quite common for a smaller size company to have say, a director be listed as an executive, whereas at a much larger company, director is mid-level.  Thus, executive here is noted as Director of higher at learning system companies that are small (less than 100 employees) and VP or higher at any company that has more than 100 employees. 

Overall, the study found only 36% of executives are women, compared to 64% that are men.  While some companies had more than 30 female executives, they still had a higher number of male executives. 

Even if the company was founded by a woman, the numbers still showed as a whole (there were a few exceptions), more male executives than female.

At companies that were over 100 employees,  percentage of women who have the title of VP or higher is 32%.  In some instances the ratio of men execs to female execs was more than two to one.

At smaller size companies, in a few cases, the ratio was even higher.

From a country standpoint there was not a specific country where the percentage nor ratios were different from the overall, i.e. there are still more male executives than female executives. 


35% of vendors in the learning system space do not have any women at the C-Level.  The majority of the companies who do not, were those with less than 100 employees, but there were exceptions. 

Of those who had C-Level female executives (65%), 21% are CEOs.

Job titles including Chief Marketing Officer, Chief People Officer and COO were slightly lower.

Learning system companies that were founded by women, were more likely to have more females at the C-Level than companies that were founded by men. 

By Department

When asking various folks about departments where they would think would have a high percentage of women executives, Marketing, HR and Customer Service were noted as the most probable. And true to form, the analysis shows this to be accurate. 

Overwhelmingly, Marketing has the highest percentage of female executives by department, with Customer Service/Support second, followed by HR. Sales and Finance rounded out the highest numbers by department. 

The lowest? Engineering.

Leadership Development

In an industry where the majority of vendors focus on the L&D department as the key customer they seek, it may come as a shock to learn that 44% learning system vendors do not have their own internal leadership development program. 

Of that group, 42% do not have any C-Level female executives.

For those who do have a leadership development program, the findings reveal that there are more males in the leadership programs than women, not just overall, but also on average by company.  There are exceptions, of course. 

One trend line that does appear is that companies founded by women were more likely to have a higher percentage of females in their leadership development than males.

The Final Take

The data backs what many of us I think would assume to be the case in terms of the number of executives by gender, in that, more would be men than women. 

But there are trends that need further exploration including the lack of a leadership development program, which aligns (at least for now), to the lack of C-level female executives in those same companies.  

Is this due to lack of female candidates at those companies or are there other factors in play?

As for those vendors who have a leadership development program, the study did not examine what criteria is considered when it comes to those vendors who have more men in their leadership programs than women.

In regards to the female executives, the data speaks for itself.

The industry has a systemic problem, and one that should be recognized, so that companies themselves can look within and ask how to fix it. 

Will it be overnight? The answer clearly is no. 

But until vendors realize there is a problem, then it will be business as usual.

And that should be unacceptable



E-Learning 24/7

– Data collected from May 2019 thru September 2019. 100 vendors in multiple countries. 









  1. Craig – well said. Well said.

    Neovation Learning Solutions

  2. “One trend line that does appear is that companies founded by women were more likely to have a higher percentage of females in their leadership development than males.” This is just another reason why female entrepreneurship is important, as well female-backed companies getting access to the investments and financing they need to take off.

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