Although positive, our IBR research suggests progress is slow. This year, women in mid-market companies hold 32.4% of senior management positions, up 0.5pp from last year’s 31.9%. In the 19 years since we began monitoring this, the proportion has only shifted 13pp. The curve has steepened in recent years but there’s still much more to do.
Without a greater level of intent from businesses, the percentage of women in senior management will only reach 34% by 2025. Alarmingly, 9% of mid-market businesses globally still have no women in senior leadership.
“The 30% target was held as a ‘tipping point’ which would trigger an acceleration toward more gender balanced workplaces. Given the incremental change since mid-market businesses in our research reached 30%, it is clear we now need to inject greater determination to fully reap the benefits of greater diversity.”
Karitha Ericson, global leader - network capability and culture at Grant Thornton International Ltd
Underpinning the overarching increase in women in senior leadership positions are some strong performances at a regional level. All regions surpassed the 30% figure for women in senior management, for the first time.
“Within our own network, encouraging a diverse workforce at every level with a global focus on gender is a key focus of our network strategy. Our commitment is to accelerate our progress in this area and to foster psychologically safe environments where everyone feels empowered to be their best. We know we must be intentional and decisive to push for parity, and other businesses must do the same to remain robust, resilient, and relevant in the ever-changing market.”
Peter Bodin, CEO of Grant Thornton International Ltd
The ASEAN region experienced the biggest percentage points rise among the regions, increasing from 37% to reach the 40% mark. Latin America was up 2pp from 35% to 37%, while the European Union’s performance remained flat at 33%.
APAC’s increase of 2pp to 32% places it ahead of North America for the first time since 2018 and North America was the only region to experience a dip, from 33% to 31%.
Katie MacQuivey, managing director, advisory strategy and transactions at Grant Thornton US, comments: “Companies are committed to gender diversity more now than ever given the research that diverse leadership teams benefit their brand and their financial success. While it’s encouraging to see some regions have made progress, it’s concerning that progress has plateaued and gone backwards in others.
"Given the complexity of factors that simultaneously accelerate and detract from parity, it’s crucial that companies build a pipeline of diverse leadership across all levels and invest in long term programs to ensure success isn’t only focused on a point in time.”
India was one of the key contributors to the increase seen in APAC. In recent years, it has introduced new policies to boost diversity in the workplace. In 2020, a requirement was put in place that the largest 1000 companies must have an independent female director.[i]
Devika Dixit, director at Grant Thornton Bharat LLP (India) comments that maternity leave policies have likely made an impact: “There is a government mandate that women are entitled to six months’ paid leave, which I believe has been a real benefit. It means you can recuperate, recover, and get your child into a schedule before returning to work.”
Sinead Donovan, chair at Grant Thornton Ireland believes ESG reporting requirements will have a positive impact: “In Ireland, venture capital or private equity houses now insist on diversity for boards. We are seeing increasing pressure from clients and investors, which will push mid-market businesses to introduce measures that increase the percentage of female senior managers. I expect this will be the case across the European Union and North America, given the particular focus on ESG reporting in these regions.”
The United Arab Emirates, though not included in the regional figures, currently has 27% of senior leadership positions held by women. There is a growing sense of optimism on the ground that new regulations and changing cultural attitudes will accelerate progress.
According to Hisham Farouk, CEO at Grant Thornton UAE: “We have seen a lot of progress in the UAE in recent years - with the advancement of women’s rights and presence, there’s been an increase in opportunities for women to take on senior leadership roles. In some sectors, the progress has been accelerated by government action. In publicly listed companies, for example, there now has to be at least two women on the board. Change can take time, as we’ve seen in other regions, but things are definitely looking positive in the UAE.”