What can be done to improve gender diversity in business leadership? The latest Women in business report offers three ways.

To mark International Women’s Day, Grant Thornton has released its annual Women in business survey of 5,500 businesses in 36 economies. This year it reveals that the proportion of senior business roles held by women in the UK has fallen from 21% in 2016 to 19% in 2017. In addition, the percentage of UK businesses with no women in senior management is up from 36% in 2016 to 41% in 2017.

With those results in mind, here's three ways outlined in the report to improve gender diversity in the boardroom:

1. Speak up for diversity and embed change throughout your organisation

Many companies are striving for gender diversity at leadership level. But there is a need to consider how individuals further down view the issue. Leaders should not assume everyone understands or supports the argument. Continue to articulate the commercial need to inspire those not convinced of the need of take significant steps across the organisation.

Leadership teams must also understand how issues such as unconscious bias play into different settings, and then educate employees on their effects. Keep refreshing your approach, so that men and women alike continue to step back, think and act.

2. Encourage diverse leadership styles and role models

The diversity agenda is not about giving women the confidence to operate like men; it’s about creating an environment that is conducive to all. This starts with the individual. The benefits of diversity will not surface if people’s differences aren’t allowed to actually come out in their job.

Leadership styles do not need to conform to predetermined moulds; nor must leadership be all-consuming. Demonstrate that there are multiple models of a successful leader and encourage people in your organisation to consider what kind of leader they want to be.

3. Invest in sponsorship programmes, not just mentoring

Women downplay their success to others. The emotional support offered through mentoring is extremely valuable. But recognition and encouragement from the right sponsor can have a dramatic impact on an individual’s career advancement.

Not only will a sponsor champion the prospects and skills of women in the workplace, but they will also protect them enough to take risks and make mistakes without these hampering an individual’s career.