Despite only a slight increase in the percentage of women in senior leadership positions, this year’s research shows a significant broadening out of the roles women hold.
There are big increases in the percentage of women occupying the chief executive officer (CEO)/ managing director (MD) and chief information officer (CIO) positions. In 2019, just 15% of businesses had a female CEO / MD. Now, that number is 28%. Female CIO positions rose from 16% to 23% over the same period. Female chief operating officers (COOs) and chief financial officers (CFOs) are also on the rise; 25% of businesses now have a female COO and 38% have a female CFO.
Katerina Koulouri, head of people experience and culture at Grant Thornton Greece says: "The changing legislative framework here has opened doors to some of those roles which have previously been occupied by men. Hybrid working has also had an impact, as it has ensured less bias in recruiting for these roles.”
The trend of women occupying the most senior roles suggests strategies for leadership succession planning, such as implementing strong wellbeing training and support programmes (adopted by 29% of mid-market businesses) and providing mentoring and coaching (27%), are working. With greater numbers of women in the leading role, gender and overall diversity will likely benefit – with female CEOs potentially looking at implementing their own business strategies, which support this ambition.
Sheree Atcheson, believes the time is now for increasing the diversity among CEOs: “One of the top drivers of more women in senior leadership will be diversifying what is usually a very homogeneous pool of people. CEOs don’t change roles very often and most CEO groups are not diverse. They are from similar backgrounds, ethnicity and genders i.e. white, non-disabled men. So when we see CEOs retiring or moving on, and a CEO position opens up, there’s an opportunity to diversify that pool.”
Sheree Atcheson, group VP of diversity and inclusion at business transformation agency Valtech, and advisory board member of Women Who Code
There are some specific regional pushes which are increasing the percentage of women in these senior roles.
The trend for women to take on roles at the very top of businesses is particularly prevalent in North America where 39% of businesses have a female CEO / MD – due in part, to external pressures around ESG reporting. While the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has already proposed climate change and cybersecurity reporting rules, it’s expected to propose human capital and board diversity disclosure rules in 2023.[i]
In Australia, government policy will likely begin pushing employers closer to parity. Employers with over 100 staff will soon be required to report their gender pay gap.[ii]
Said Jahani, national managing partner at Grant Thornton Australia comments: “As a country, Australia have been trailblazers in this area. We’ve been on a real journey and I think there has certainly been a mind shift here, particularly post-pandemic, which will see more women shift into these more senior roles. The new pay gap bill will certainly be a step in the right direction.”
In some countries the increasing trend for female entrepreneurs is also providing a boost.[iii] As these firms evolve from start-ups to mid-market scale, these entrepreneurial women will lead them.
Importantly, these businesses are also receiving government support. In May 2022, the UK government launched a ‘Taskforce on Women-Led High-Growth Enterprises’ which aims to tackle investing barriers and increase the number of women-led fast-growing businesses.[iv]
Katie MacQuivey comments: “Companies benefit financially from having diverse leadership teams, and as a result so does the global economy—so governments are paying attention. The entrepreneurial drive is extremely high right now. Women are getting educated at higher rates and more are looking to start their own companies and sit on executive teams, creating a larger talent pool for startups and established midsize businesses.”
While we have seen a broadening out of roles on a global level, this has clearly been driven by some key regions. Countries should look at the policies and mindsets being adopted by some of these regions, as pulling more women through into the very top positions will accelerate progress towards parity.
i. harvard.edu - EU’s New ESG Reporting Rules Will Apply to Many US Issuers, 23.11.22
ii. aph.gov.au - Workplace Gender Equality Amendment (Closing the Gender Pay Gap) Bill 2023
iii. forbes.com - More And More Women Are Starting Businesses. Why Is That So Surprising?, 23.07.21 and telegraph.co.uk - More women are starting businesses than men – this is cultural progress that we must support, 28.02.22
iv. GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) - Government launches taskforce to boost women starting fast-growing companies, 26.05.22