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Department of Management

Professor Ruth Sealy

Professor Ruth Sealy

Professor of Responsible Leadership; Director of Impact


 +44 (0)1392 726293

 Streatham Court 1.47


Streatham Court, University of Exeter, Rennes Drive, Exeter, EX4 4PU, UK


With global academic expertise on women on corporate boards, Ruth’s research areas include women in leadership; board composition; role models; and various aspects of corporate governance. Her current work focuses on the responsiblization of diversifying boards and leadership teams and the incorporation of diversity in Environmental Social & Governance (ESG) measures.

In the past, Ruth was the lead researcher of the annual UK Female FTSE Report, monitoring women on listed boards and executive committees, from 2007-2016, including co-creating the “100 Women to Watch” list at Cranfield in 2009. She has co-authored similar reports in Hong Kong and India and presented report findings to academic and practitioner audiences, globally. Working closely with the Government Equalities Office and Business Innovation & Skills department, Ruth and her team provided the data for the Lord Davies Review into women on boards 2010-2015. Ruth was a member of the NHS Advisory Board, which was set an ambitious target of “50:50 by 2020” to help diversify all NHS hospital boards. She was also an invited member of the British Psychological Society Division of Occupational Psychology Board Effectiveness Group.

Prior to becoming an academic, Ruth was the Managing Director of a specialist holiday company, which she sold to a larger tour operator. She then worked for a number of years as a management psychology consultant, before starting a PhD at Cranfield School of Management in 2004, where she later became Deputy Director of the International Centre for Women Leaders. In 2013, Ruth moved City University of London to be Programme Director for MSc Organisational Psychology, and in 2016, joined University of Exeter Business School.

Nationality: British


BSc., MSc., PhD, Academic FCIPD, FBAM


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Research interests

  • Women in leadership
  • Board demographics, dynamics and governance
  • Role models
  • Meritocracy & legitimacy

My research spans three areas: The first stems directly from my PhD and focuses on individual level processes: work identity, role models and the impact of demography on gender, and career decisions. In addition, this includes work on intersectionality, privileged identities and identity imposition:  International Journal of Management Reviews (2010; 2017); Gender in Management (2010; 2013); Journal of Managerial Psychology (2014); Career Development International (2017); Gender Work & Organization (2016; 2020); plus five book chapters. 

The second area has a focus on public policy regarding women on boards and in leadership positions: governance, inclusion, regulation, leadership. This includes 25 women on boards reports (2007-2020), many of which were launched by major political figures (at No. 10 Downing Street; No. 11 Downing Street) or prominent corporate leaders (at KPMG HQ; at Barclays HQ). These reports have influenced policy of the UK government, the EU Commission, professional bodies and the NHS. In addition, this has led to white papers for International Alliance of Organizational Psychology - combined group of SIOP, EAWOP & the DOP- on women in power; and for the British Psychological Society’s Division of Organizational Psychology on board effectiveness. My papers in this area are included in journals Corporate Governance: International Review (2009 - one of highest cited articles in journal); Human Resource Management Journal (2016); Business Ethics Quarterly (2016); British Journal of Management (2017 – one of only 4 articles chosen for a Special Issue of Impactful Research); Organizational Dynamics (2018); plus six book chapters.

  The third area is less developed and includes further research into governance processes – e.g. major (250 page) literature review completed for the Financial Reporting Council 2020 underpinning their 5-year project on the Future of Corporate Reporting, including 'real effects'. A paper based on this is in a Special Issue on the Future of Corporate Reporting in Accounting in Europe (2021). The role of board evaluation and its function is very under-researched, with regulators’ and investors’ expectations at odds. There are research opportunities to consider wider stakeholders and meta-processes of change – e.g. collaborative work with QUEX colleague on the non-legislative change processes in both UK and Australia including the roles and legitimacy of various actors. Another developing area focuses on the responsiblization of diversifying boards and leadership teams and the incorporation of diversity in Environmental Social & Governance (ESG) measures. Additionally, I have a behavioural governance focus on boardroom dynamics, as well as the motivations and legitimacy of CEOs’ and Chairs’ decisions and processes to become sustainable and more equitable successful organisations. 

Research projects

Current funded research projects:

  • Solicitors Regulatory Authority - looking at "attainment gaps" in professional qualifications for ethnic minorities
  • NHS Boardroom Diversity: information on 3,000 board directors; Qualitative data from Chairs on how and why they diversify; women's career paths to under-represented board directorships 

Current Doctoral Research:

  • Regulation, the trickle-down effect, disclosure, and board gender diversity (Aaron Page – Co-supervised with Professor Andrew Parker)
  • The role of the board Chair and Nomination Committee in inclusive and effective boardrooms (Loretto Leavy - Co-supervised with Dr Greg Molecke)

Completed Doctoral Supervisions:

  • Louise Tilbury - PhD 2016-23 (part-time): Behind the Numbers: Status as a Process Loss in Boards Beyond Critical Mass and the moderating role of Structure in Chairing style. Co-supervised with  Dr Emma Jeanes. No corrections.
  • Victoria Opara - PhD 2017-22 (part-time): "The Workplace Experiences of African, Asian and Caribbean (AAC), British, Professional Women: Understanding Women’s Workplace Experiences and Well-Being Implications. Co-supervised with Professor Michelle Ryan
  • Doyin Atewologun – PhD 2009-12: “An examination of senior Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic women and men’s identity work following episodes of identity salience at work”. No corrections.
  • Patricia Pryce – PhD 2009-13: “The role of social capital in men and women’s promotion to Managing Director in an investment bank”

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Journal articles

Sealy R, Harman C (In Press). Opt-In or Opt-Out: Exploring how women construe their ambition at early career stages. Career Development International
Page A, Sealy R, Parker A, Hauser O (In Press). Regulation and the Trickle-Down Effect of Women in Leadership Roles. Leadership Quarterly
McLaughlin H, Silvester J, Bilimoria D, Jane S, Sealy R, Peters K, Moltner H, Huse M, Goke J (In Press). Women in power: Contributing factors that impact on women in organizations and politics; psychological research and bets practice. Organizational Dynamics
Tilbury L, Sealy R (2023). Seen and not heard: a comparative case study of women on boards and process loss beyond critical mass. Corporate Governance: an International Review, 32(2), 190-204. Abstract.
Opara V, Ryan MK, Sealy R, Begeny C (2023). “Fitting in whilst standing out”: Identity flexing strategies of professional British women of African, Asian, and Caribbean ethnicities. Frontiers in Sociology: Work, Employment and Organizations, 8 Abstract.
Michelon G, Trojanowski G, Sealy R (2022). Narrative Reporting: State of the Art and Future Challenges. Accounting in Europe, 19(1), 7-47. Abstract.
Opara V, Sealy R, Ryan MK (2020). The workplace experiences of BAME professional women: Understanding experiences at the intersection. Gender, Work & Organization, 27(6), 1192-1213. Abstract.
Sealy R, Terjesen SA, Doldor E, Huse M (2018). Women on Boards, Selection Processes & Dynamics: Pushing Boundaries with New Research Approaches. Academy of Management Proceedings, 2018(1).
Sealy R, Doldor E, Vinnicommbe S, Terjesen S, Anderson D, Atewologun D (2017). Expanding the notion of dialogic reading zones for impactful research: the case of women on boards research. British Journal of Management, 28, 64-64.
Atewologun D, Kutzer R, Doldor E, Anderson D, Sealy R (2017). Individual-level Foci of Identification at Work: a Systematic Review of the Literature. International Journal of Management Reviews, 19(3), 273-295. Abstract.
Doldor E, Sealy R, Vinnicombe S (2016). Accidental activists: headhunters as marginal diversity actors in institutional change towards more women on boards. Human Resource Management Journal, 26(3), 285-303.
Terjesen S, Sealy R (2016). Board Gender Quotas: Exploring Ethical Tensions from a Multi-Theoretical Perspective. Business Ethics Quarterly, 26(1), 23-65. Abstract.
Atewologun D, Sealy R, Vinnicombe S (2015). Revealing Intersectional Dynamics in Organizations: Introducing ‘Intersectional Identity Work’. Gender, Work & Organization, 23(3), 223-247. Abstract.
Atewologun D, Sealy R (2014). Experiencing privilege at ethnic, gender and senior intersections. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 29(4), 423-439.
Pryce P, Sealy R (2013). Promoting women to MD in investment banking: multi-level influences. Gender in Management: an International Journal, 28(8), 448-467. Abstract.
Atewologun D, Sealy RHV (2011). ADVANCING RACIO-ETHNIC AND DIVERSITY THEORISING THROUGH ‘INTERSECTIONAL IDENTITY WORK’. Academy of Management Proceedings, 2011(1), 1-6.
Sealy R (2010). Changing perceptions of meritocracy in senior women's careers. Gender in Management: an International Journal, 25(3), 184-197. Abstract.
Sealy RHV, Singh V (2010). The Importance of Role Models and Demographic Context for Senior Women's Work Identity Development. International Journal of Management Reviews, 12(3), 284-300. Abstract.
Terjesen S, Sealy R, Singh V (2009). Women Directors on Corporate Boards: a Review and Research Agenda. Corporate Governance: an International Review, 17(3), 320-337. Abstract.


Sealy R, Forsblad C, Worts N (2024). Women's leadership ambition in early careers. In  (Ed) Handbook of Research on Gender and Leadership, Edward Elgar Publishing, 171-186.
Searle R, Sealy R, Hawkins B (2019). 'Don't you know that it's different for girls': a dynamic exploration of trust, breach and violation for women en route to the top. In Antoniou A-S, Cooper C, Gatrell C (Eds.) Women, Business & Leadership: Gender and Organisations, Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 232-246.
Sealy R, Harman C (2017). Women's leadership ambition in early careers. In Madsen S (Ed) Handbook of Research on Gender and Leadership, Edward Elgar Publishing.


Tilbury L, Sealy R (2020). The Chair, Board Processes and Gender: a case based exploration of faultlines in the boardroom. International Corporate Governance Society. 13th - 16th Nov 2020. Abstract.
Page A, Sealy R, Parker A (2020). The Impact of Regulating Board Gender Diversity on the Trickle-Down Effect: an Attention-Based View. International Corporate Governance Society. 13th - 15th Nov 2020. Abstract.
Sealy R (2017). Constructing Women Leaders’ Identity. Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Leadership Symposium. 3rd - 6th May 2017. Abstract.
Sealy R, Hawkins B, Searle R (2017). Precarious Selves: Women’s leadership identity emergence. British Academy of Management. 5th - 8th Sep 2017. Abstract.
Harvey WS, Sealy R (2016). Building HR's reputation.


Sealy R (2020). Action for Equality: the time is now. NHS Employers,  London, NHS Confederation.
Michelon G, Trojanowski G, Sealy R (2020). Understanding research findings and evidence on corporate reporting: an independent literature review. Financial Reporting Council,  London, Financial Reporting Council.
Vinnicombe S, Sealy R, Humberd A (2017). Female FTSE Board Report 2017: Women on boards, back on track?. Cranfield UK, Cranfield University.
Vinnicombe S, Sealy R, Humbert AL (2017). Female FTSE Board Report 2017: Women on boards, back on track?. Cranfield, UK. Cranfeild University.
Sealy R, Doldor E, Vinnicombe S (2016). Female FTSE Report 2016 - Women on Boards: Taking stock of where we are. KPMG; GOvernament Equalities Office,  London, Cranfield School of Management.

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External Engagement and Impact

Awards and Honours

  • Terjesen & Sealy (2015) “Questioning Quotas”, part of symposium Winner of Best International Symposium, Academy of Management Annual Meeting, Montreal, Canada.
  • Atewologun, D. & Sealy, R. (2011) “Advancing racio-ethnic and diversity theorising through intersectional identity work”, Best International Paper, Academy of Management Annual Meeting, San Antonio, Texas, USA.
  • Sealy, R. (2009) “How senior women experience gender-imbalanced work environments”, Best Paper British Academy of Management Conference, Brighton, UK.
  • Sealy, R. & Singh, V. (2006) “Role models, work identity and senior women’s career progression: Why are role models important?”, Nominated for Best Paper Academy of Management Annual Meeting, Atlanta, Georgia, USA.

External positions

  • Member of NHS Advisory Board  

She was academic advisor on the following:

  • Newman, P. (2011) Releasing Potential: Women doctors and clinical leadership, Cambridge, UK: NHS Midlands & East
  • Confederation of British Industry (2010), Room at the top: Improving gender diversity on UK corporate boards, CBI, London.
  • Equality & Human Rights Commission (2009) Financial services enquiry: Sex discrimination and the gender pay gap, London UK.

Invited lectures

  • Ruth is a regular keynote and panel speaker at practitioner events.

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Ruth leads the Masters module BEMM071 Leadership & Global Challenges 

She also teaches on the interdisciplinary 3rd year module LAW3169 on Equality & Diversity



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