Diversity and MeToo lift women in leadership positions to record

07 March 2019 Consultancy.eu

Growing awareness about diversity at the top, as well as the global #MeToo movement, have lifted women’s presence in leadership ranks to record heights last year. For the first time in history more than a quarter of senior management positions globally are held by women, according to the ‘Women in business’ research by Grant Thornton.

Over the last seven years, the proportion of global businesses employing at least one woman in senior management has risen from 21% in 2012 to 29% today. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, last year marked 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 broken through the one in four barrier.

A breakdown shows 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 area made up of women. According to the researchers, “Eastern Europe has offered opportunities for women to gain technical skills and move into male-dominated industries, with many women leading in the workplace.” Further, the government has put several policies in place aimed at full employment and women-led entrepreneurialism. Europe and Asia Pacific score in the middle ground.

Share of women in senior management globally

Eastern Europe – which has been ahead of the pack for years now – is followed closely by Africa and North America, where 31% of executives are female. Southern Europe and Latin America have the lowest figures, with just 26% and 25% of senior managers being women. This in in large due to cultural barriers to the promotion of women within businesses. “There remains a strong tradition in many Southern European countries that it is a woman’s responsibility to care for the family.”

Breaking the glass ceiling

Despite the improving career fortunes of women in recent years, the analysis however shows that there still is much work to be done. The researchers assert that for the gates to gender parity to be opened, a tipping point of women in management of 30% is needed. Nearing, or achieving gender parity, is regarded beneficial for businesses and society. For companies, several studies have concluded that more women in leadership ranks boosts team productivity and company performance. From a societal perspective, providing women with equal opportunities to men can trigger a massive knock-on benefit – according to one estimate by McKinsey & Company, parity with men could add up to $28 trillion extra to world GDP by 2025.

Commenting on the results of the study, Francesca Lagerberg, Global Leader Network Capabilities at Grant Thornton, said; “The pursuit of gender equality has proved to be a slow process, but we do see a strong change in the past year. It seems that gender equality is finally taken seriously by the international business community. Hopefully this is not a temporary change and the trend will continue.”

Share of women in senior management

In addition, the figures of women in leadership are to an extent inflated by the fact that women rarely hold the top seat in the boardroom – chairman or chief executive officer. The roles most likely to be held by women are Human Resources Director (43%), Chief Finance Officer (34%) and Chief Marketing Officer (20%). Only 15% of CEO’s of Managing Directors globally are female.

According to the researchers, employers have an active task in helping women break through the ‘glass ceiling’. Women particularly believe that their employers should invest in them. They also would appreciate more support with time management – women struggle with making time available for the development of their own skills and capabilities alongside their work. In addition, employers are advised to have performance management policies in place that enable women to juggle their work with other desires, helping them balance their work-life decisions while advancing the career ladder. 

Related: Average top 100 CEO in Europe earns salary & bonus of €5.8 million.


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