The third pathway: How we work

The final pathway to parity is the ability to work flexibly. 

There has been a dramatic shift back to office working among global mid-market firms in the past 12 months.

This displays a strong shift away from what we found in our 2023 Women in Business report: The push for parity, where primarily office-based businesses were outnumbered by those offering a hybrid approach post-Covid-19.

Primary working style changes

47% of businesses are now primarily office-based (compared to 36% last year) and 45% are hybrid (compared to 53% last year). This is potentially being driven by male CEOs – 50% of businesses with a male CEO are predominantly office-based, compared to 40% of female led businesses.  

There are some significant regional differences. In North America, 39% of businesses are primarily office-based. In the EU, however, this jumps to 53%. 

Businesses in which workers are primarily office-based are the only ones where the percentage of women in senior management roles drops below the global benchmark.

The impact of choice

Having choice in where we work brings significant benefits to women in business, not just at a senior level, but also to the talent pipeline.

Nathalie Margraitte says: “It’s brilliant to have a mixture of home and office working – both for men and women – as you’re able to have a much better personal and professional work life balance. At the same time, you don’t want younger employees to feel like they are alone, and so it’s important that they’re able to see you in person if needed.” 

Boel Hansson, Partner, Assurance and Board member, Grant Thornton Sweden, feels it’s a crucial element of retaining and progressing women: “For employees that take maternity leave, when they are ready to return to work, hybrid working is key for us to keep them and help them proceed in their career.”

To encourage and retain female talent in the workplace, businesses need to carefully consider the working practices they offer. The research above suggests that these decisions are being made by men – showing the importance of ensuring there is also a female senior leader involved in decision-making around DE&I. If businesses push too hard for a return to the office, then they may unwittingly undo some of the progress made on women in senior management which resulted from the adoption of flexible working practices.  

Walking the path: Develop a culture of flexibility

Businesses have a clear opportunity to take actionable, tangible steps, and follow our three pathways to accelerate towards parity.

Further insight can be found on these pathways by clicking the links below or by downloading the full report below.

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Pathways to parity

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