But proportion of women in senior business roles stagnates

On the eve of International Women’s Day, new research from the Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR) reveals that despite a groundswell of discussion and debate, the proportion of women holding the top jobs around the world remains at just under a quarter. The survey finds growing support for regulation around quotas to get women onto boards, but also several measures that businesses can take to facilitate the careers paths of women.

Globally, the proportion of senior roles filled by women in 2014 is 24%. This is exactly the same proportion as 2013, 2009 and 2007, and only 5% higher than the 19% recorded ten years ago in 2004 . Regionally, there has been very little significant change over the past decade with Eastern Europe (37%), southeast Asia (35%) and China (38%) leading the way. Japan (9%), India and the United Arab Emirates (both 14%) continue to prop up the table.

Francesca Lagerberg, global leader for tax services at Grant Thornton, said: “That greater diversity in decision-making produces better outcomes is no longer up for debate. For businesses, better decisions mean stronger growth, so it is in their interests to facilitate the path of women from the classroom to the boardroom.

“The concern is that recent improvements in the access of women to education, especially in emerging markets, has not translated into higher proportions of women reaching the top of the corporate ladder. And while women are more likely to achieve these senior roles in emerging markets, there has been a worrying lack of movement globally over the past decade. This is clear evidence that we need actions rather than words. I would like to see businesses and governments implementing measures that support the career paths of women. Nothing should be left off the table.”

The IBR also shows support for the introduction of quotas to get more women on boards is growing. Globally, close to one in two business leaders (45%) would now like to see quotas for the numbers of women on the boards of large listed companies, up from just over one in three (37%) in 2013. Interestingly, support has grown sharply in the EU (from 33% to 41%) where the imposition of quotas are most likely, but also in the BRIC economies (41% to 72%) while support remains high in Latin America (68%) and Asia Pacific (57%). Across the G7, however, only 33% of business leaders are in support of quotas.

Francesca Lagerberg added: “Quotas are controversial but it may well be that we have reached a tipping point and businesses need the nudge if we are to see a true step change.

“But businesses themselves can also implement measures which could make a real difference. Our research shows that just a fifth of the average global graduate intake is female. You would expect a fair proportion of a business's future leaders to come from its pool of graduates, so getting more women starting at that level will increase the odds of them making it to the top. It’s better for businesses too; a wider breadth of candidates means more chances of hiring star performers. And more could be done to support working mothers. Providing flexible working is helpful but it’s not enough: businesses should consider providing tangible support for the burden of childcare if they want to retain their most talented women.”

Business actions

1. Improve mentoring: fewer than one in four companies globally (24%) run (or are considering running) a specific programme to promote women’s leadership.

2. Relieve childcare burden: just 18% businesses globally provide childcare vouchers, 16% provide a salary increase (which might make returning to work more financially viable) and 6% provide on-site childcare facilities.

3. Hire more female graduates: in an average year, just 21% of the graduates mid-market businesses hire are women. This will help unpack the current male bias around hiring and promotion that is key to increasing diversity.

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Download the full report 'From classroom to boardroom’.