• Gender balance in senior leadership roles remains elusive

More businesses have women in senior leadership roles but a meaningful gender balance remains elusive according to Grant Thornton International Ltd.’s annual Women in business report.

Businesses globally have taken one step forward but one step back on women in leadership. Significantly more businesses (75% in 2018 v 66% in 2017) now have at least one woman on the senior management team, but the proportion of the team that is female has slipped from 25% to 24%, according to Grant Thornton International Ltd.’s annual Women in Business report.

Published to coincide with International Women’s Day 2018, which calls on all to #PressforProgress, the research reveals that introducing policies alone is not enough to drive real progress. A wider culture of inclusion championed from the top is needed to create change.

The progress on the number of businesses with women in senior management has primarily been driven by emerging economies such as Africa (where 89% of businesses have at least one woman in senior management) and Eastern Europe (87%), while Latin America has seen the biggest increase (from 52% to 65%). But there has also been a significant increase in developed regions such as North America (from 69% to 81%) and the European Union (EU from 64% to 73%).

Emerging economies also continue to see the highest proportion of women in senior roles, including Eastern Europe (36%), Latin America (30%) and Africa (30%).
Francesca Lagerberg, global leader for network capabilities and sponsor of women in leadership at Grant Thornton International Ltd, comments:

“While it’s hugely positive that women are in senior roles at more businesses, it’s disappointing that they are being spread so thinly. This suggests businesses are concentrating on box-ticking at the expense of meaningful progress and means they will not gain from the benefits of true gender diversity. We need to move beyond policy and focus on the vital role leadership and culture can play in creating real progress in gender balance. There is compelling evidence of the link between gender diversity in leadership and commercial success. The current volatility in the global economy and ongoing technological innovation and disruption makes the issue more important than ever.”

Policy alone not driving progress

Grant Thornton’s report investigates the role of both business and government policy in bringing about change. The data show gender equality policies are abundant and widespread, with 81% of businesses adopting equal pay for men and women performing the same roles, and 71% implementing non-discrimination policies for recruitment. Measures that support working parents are also popular among businesses, including paid parental leave (59%), flexible hours (57%) and part-time working (54%).

However, there is no clear correlation between which, and how many, policies businesses have in place and the gender diversity of their senior management teams. No single policy seems to drive gender diversity, and the regions in which businesses have most policies in place – Africa, the EU and North America – demonstrate very different levels of gender diversity in business leadership. 

Companies say they are motivated to introduce gender equality policies primarily to attract and keep employees (65%) and to live up to organisational values (65%). Recruitment and retention are strategic priorities for businesses, and gender equality in leadership has become a core element of company branding. However, businesses say the barriers to introducing policies include the complexity of translating good intentions into practice (22%) and stereotypes about gender roles (21%). 

Francesca Lagerberg adds: “It’s clear that simply introducing policies is not enough to drive real progress on gender diversity. Businesses who are succeeding are those whose policies and practices are rooted in a genuine conviction of the benefit of diversity. Leaders must champion the cause and create inclusive cultures in which a wide range of voices are listened to and where every individual can flourish if we are ever to see real change. Leaders are the only ones who can really press for progress.”

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Notes to editors

The Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR), launched in 1992 initially in nine European countries, now provides insight into the views and expectations of more than 10,000 businesses per year across 35 countries. More information: www.grantthornton.global

Questionnaires are translated into local languages with each participating country having the option to ask a small number of country specific questions in addition to the core questionnaire. Fieldwork is undertaken on a quarterly basis, primarily by telephone. IBR is a survey of both listed and privately held businesses. The data for this release are drawn from interviews with more than 4,995 chief executive officers, managing directors, chairs or other senior executives from all industry sectors conducted in July to December of 2017.

About Grant Thornton International Ltd*

Grant Thornton is one of the world’s leading organisations of independent assurance, tax and advisory firms. These firms help dynamic organisations unlock their potential for growth by providing meaningful, forward looking advice. Proactive teams, led by approachable partners, use insights, experience and instinct to understand complex issues for privately owned, publicly listed and public sector clients and help them to find solutions. More than 47,000 Grant Thornton people across over 130 countries, are focused on making a difference to the clients, colleagues and the communities in which we live and work.

*All references to Grant Thornton International in the press release and this “Notes to editor” section are to Grant Thornton International Ltd. Grant Thornton International Ltd is a non-practicing, international umbrella entity organized as a private company limited by guarantee incorporated in England and Wales.