“To survive and thrive in today’s complex global environment, organisations must drive culture change, embracing innovation and inclusion. Diversity is fundamental to the future-fit business” -- Peter Bodin, global CEO, Grant Thornton International.
2019 sees the highest percentage of women in senior management on record, at 29%. This year also marks the biggest increase in the proportion of women in executive roles around the world, rising five percentage points from 24% in 2018, and making it the first time the proportion of women in senior leadership has exceeded one in four. However, positive progress has been slow in coming: improvements stand at only 10 percentage points since our reporting began in 2004, while, by 2018, we saw that numbers had remained static from those recorded a decade ago in 2009.
Encouragingly, over the last five years, the proportion of global businesses employing at least one woman in senior management has risen by 20 percentage points – 12 points in the last year alone. However, globally the proportion of women in senior roles is still lying short of the 30% tipping point that is expected to open the gates to gender parity.
“While women reported that they lacked access to networking and development opportunities, both genders felt their key job function left them too little time to focus on promotion, says the Grant Thornton’s Women in business report 2019.
The research also shows that women still find it easier to progress in certain roles. Human resources far outweighs all other departments for female leadership, while of the C-suite, the top finance position has twice as many female appointees as any other role.
The state of gender diversity
2019 research reveals marked regional differences in gender diversity among senior leadership, often rooted in country-specific cultural, economic and political factors. Leading the way is Eastern Europe with almost a third (32%) of senior management in the region made up of women, outperforming the global figure by three percentage points.
Asia Pacific (APAC) region is failing to achieve significant movement in the middle ground, says the report. The middle-placed regions including APAC all sit just below the global average for the proportion of women in senior management, at 28%.
Barriers to progress
The biggest barrier for both men and women had been the difficulty of finding time to improve their employment skills alongside core job responsibilities, with men identifying this as an issue more frequently than women, says the report.
After job responsibilities, women cite being held back by a lack of access to developmental work opportunities – the factor showing the biggest imbalance between the genders. Restricted networking opportunities and caring responsibilities outside work are the next most likely hurdles for women to have overcome on their route to executive roles. The research shows that the regions with the most leaders, both male, and female, saying they perceive no barriers to promotion are Africa at 42% and North America at 34%.
“To survive and thrive in today’s complex global environment, organizations must drive culture change, embracing innovation and inclusion. Diversity is fundamental to the future-fit business,” Peter Bodin, global CEO, Grant Thornton International.
Top 6 global workplace priorities for 2019
Embrace workplace diversity: a study by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) of 171 German, Swiss and Austrian businesses5 showed a clear relationship between diverse management teams and revenues from innovative products and services. It also showed that innovation performance only increased significantly when more than 20% of management positions were held by women.
Eliminate gender bias: Women are still experiencing gender discrimination when applying or interviewing for a job. Add to this bias in talent identification and hiring sources, and it’s little surprise that in our research, 26% of women cited access to both internal and external networking as a barrier to advancement. But bias can be overcome, says the study.
Retain female talent: The importance of parental leave, flexible hours, part-time working is shown in research by Catalyst6 , which revealed that 83% of women with access to flexible working arrangements aspired to the C-suite level, versus 54% of those without.
Open up development opportunities: When women see other women in top roles, they are more likely to aspire to them: a recent study by American Express found that found that although only 32% of female respondents believed that reaching the C-suite was an achievable goal, this increased to 49% if they had a mentor, and 61% with a sponsor.
Create an inclusive, supportive culture: Research from BCG9 shows that men often overestimate the support women have in the workplace. When asked if their company offered support for women from executives and middle managers, 72% of male respondents said yes, compared with only 54% of women.
Use data to recognize where you stand: Only by knowing your own situation can you take appropriate action. One quantifiable success story is General Mills USA11, which has increased its focus on diversity KPIs, with senior leaders accountable to the CEO for specific metrics. The proportion of women in the company’s senior management team increased from 9% in 2013 to 33% in 2016.