The first pathway: Who leads matters

20 years of international research on women in business has enabled Grant Thornton to clearly understand what works and what doesn’t work in terms of increasing the number of women in senior management.

This year, we’ve used this research to identify three key pathways businesses can take to increase the percentage of women in senior management positions. The first is leadership: who leads and has responsibility for DE&I is key for increasing the percentage of senior management roles held by women.

The importance of collaboration

Both male and female CEOs frequently take a leadership role on DE&I. However, leading alone on DE&I is not effective for increasing the percentage of women in senior positions.

Dan Holland, Audit partner and Head of ED&I at Grant Thornton Ireland, says: “A CEO is not going to have the time to design and implement a well-structured diversity, equity and inclusion strategy. It’s important to have a CEO who is supportive and willing to invest, but they need to empower other senior leaders in the organisation with the time to dedicate to the strategy.” 

For every senior management role that leads on DE&I, the percentage of women in senior management positions increases when a member of the C-suite, of any gender, leads alongside a senior female leader. When a CEO of any gender combines with a senior female leader, 38% of senior roles are held by women. The best combination is when a CIO leads on DE&I alongside a female senior leader, with the percentage of women in senior management rises to 39%. 

The need for female voices

Interviewees outlined the importance of this female voice as they bring vital lived experience.

Himashini Weeraratne, Head of financial services tax and Head of ESG tax group at Grant Thornton Australia says: “When women are represented in senior management roles, they bring different perspectives, experiences, and approaches to problem-solving and decision-making. This diversity of thought can lead to more innovative strategies, better risk management, and ultimately, improved financial performance.” 

However, just as important as the role and gender of the people who are leading and have responsibility for DE&I, is their level of commitment. Multiple interviewees discussed how DE&I must become integral to a company’s culture to affect change. This requires all senior leaders in an organisation to drive it forward.

Holly Stiles, Partner, National head of corporate finance and Executive sponsor of GEN at Grant Thornton Australia, says: “It’s critical that diversity, equity and inclusion is driven by the whole senior leadership team of an organisation. This should include the most senior males in an organisation as well as strong female leaders.”

Maddie Wollerton Blanks, Director, People consulting, Grant Thornton UK, agrees that a collaborative approach is necessary, that involving both male and female senior leaders: “Integral to the success of a DE&I strategy is how the whole senior leadership team collaborates to achieve it and how they engage the whole business behind it.”  

To push towards parity of senior management roles held by women, who leads within an organisation is vital. A single role holding responsibility for DE&I is not the optimum set up; including a female senior leader’s lived experience needs to be non-negotiable.  

Walking the path: Lead DE&I efforts from the top

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.

Strategies for success >

Back to the office, a backwards step? >

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Pathways to parity

Download the full report to discover more of our insights

20 years of women in business graphic