News release

Women hold 31% of global mid-market leadership roles

Despite the adverse impact the pandemic has had on global economies and on women with caring responsibilities, the number of women holding senior leadership positions in mid-market businesses globally has hit 31%, according to Grant Thornton International’s annual Women in Business Report.

In the UK, women now hold 34% of mid-market senior leadership roles, up +5pp since 2020 and 93% of UK mid-market businesses have a least one woman in a senior management role (+3pp above the global average).

Grant Thornton’s research also reveals that, globally, there are more women across operational C-suite roles compared to last year, with the proportion of female CEOs up +6pp to 26%, female CFOs up +6pp to 36%, and female COOs up +4pp to 22%.  In the UK, the senior management roles where women are best represented are HR Director (49%), CFO (35%) and Chief Marketing Officer (30%). The proportion of female CEOs in the UK is at 26%, up +9pp compared with 2020.

Sarah Talbott, Partner and Gender Lead at Grant Thornton UK LLP, says: “Progress has been slow so far but this data demonstrates a step in the right direction. Organisations across the world are increasingly recognising that diversity is vital for better decision-making. Greater diversity of background and experience encourages creativity, fosters inclusion, enables stronger challenge and debate, and ultimately makes better commercial sense.  Protecting and building a strong pipeline of diverse talent for the future is critical, because in the short term at least, we know that the pandemic has had a negative impact on women’s careers and job security.”

Over two-thirds (69%) of global respondents agree that, in their organisations, new working practices resulting from COVID-19 will benefit women’s career trajectories long-term. UK respondents were not so sure, with just over half (55%) agreeing. 

Sarah Talbott continues: “The immediate impacts of the pandemic, particularly on the hardest-hit sectors such as hospitality, leisure and retail will no doubt have long-lasting impacts on the careers of all the people they employ. Women are disproportionately represented in many of the hardest hit sectors, which when coupled with the burden of existing gender inequalities, means women are likely to face a more difficult route to career recovery.

“For office-based roles specifically, the abrupt switch to remote working in such extreme circumstances has affected rapid cultural and behavioural change. What was previously thought impossible or unsustainable has been proven to be neither. Consequently, leaders are taking greater care to gather and respond to feedback from their people, and we’ve seen accelerated adoption and rapid improvement of digital technology that promotes different ways of working.  These changes enable flexible ways of working, such as job-sharing, to work more easily and to become embedded in organisations more quickly, helping businesses to reimagine traditional leadership roles and widen access for talented people who require flexible work patterns.”

Access the Women in business 2021 report