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News release

More businesses have women in senior leadership roles globally

LONDON – Businesses globally have taken one step forward but one step back on women in leadership. Significantly more businesses around the world (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.

In the UK, a similar picture emerges, with 75% of businesses having at least one woman on their senior management team (from 59% in 2017). But, whilst the proportion of senior management team that are women has increased from 19% last year to 22% in 2018, it remains below the global average (24%).

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.

Globally, 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%).

Sacha Romanovitch, CEO, at Grant Thornton UK LLP, 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. Business needs to focus on the vital role leadership and culture can play in creating real progress in gender balance. We have learnt that initiatives to fix women into the existing way business operates miss the real opportunity of diversity in the workplace. When we focus on creating inclusive environments based around shared purpose and collaboration we start to see a shift.

“Businesses are finding how critical it is to have diverse teams that are reflective of the society they serve in winning business. Those that fail to create such diverse teams will find they are not just losing talent – they are losing business too.”

Policy alone not driving progress

Grant Thornton’s report [ 10047 kb ] investigates the role of both business and government policy in bringing about change. The data shows gender equality policies are abundant and widespread, for instance the measures to support working parents in the UK include part-time working (91%), flexible hours (78%), remote working (65%) and subsidised childcare (64%).

However, the data shows 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% globally and 82% in the UK) and to live up to organisational values (65% globally and 82% in the UK). Recruitment and retention are strategic priorities for businesses, and gender equality in leadership has become a core element of company branding. More than half (52%) of UK respondents suggested there are no barriers that prevent gender equality practices being introduced.

Encouragingly 62% of businesses agreed that collaboration was key and that business and government need to work together to address gender inequality.

Sacha Romanovitch adds:

“Collaboration between business, government and other stakeholders to solve the big issues in society is key to shaping a vibrant economy and that business clearly recognises this is in regards to supporting gender diversity is heartening. It’s clear that simply introducing policies is not enough to drive real progress on gender and indeed wider 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.”