Share of female managers in mid-sized companies is stalling

09 March 2020 5 min. read

The share of women in senior management positions at mid-market companies has stalled in the past year, according to new research from Grant Thornton. 

Since 2004 researchers from the accounting and consulting firm keep track of the number of women that hold a management role. To do so, they assess the management team composition of around 5,000 mid-sized and larger small businesses in over 50 countries.

The latest edition of the ‘Women in Business’ report shows that in the past 15 years, the proportion of women in senior management has risen by ten percentage points to 29%. While the percentage has increased in this period, growth has flat in the past twelve months. 

Proportion of women in senior management globally over the last 16 years

Positively, the proportion of mid-market companies with at least one woman in senior management around the world has held steady at 87%. This number has risen by almost 20 percentage points over the last five years. 

What are companies doing?

According to the researchers, over three-quarters of medium-sized companies worldwide (78%) are actively working on removing barriers to gender equality at higher levels. 

The most applied measure taken is ensuring equal access to developmental work opportunities (implemented by 34% of the companies), followed by creating an inclusive culture and enabling flexible working. Providing mentoring and coaching, reviewing recruitment approaches and linking senior management reward to progress on gender also are rolled-out by more than one fifth of the companies surveyed.

Proportion of women in senior management by region

According to Karin van Wijngaarden, a partner at Grant Thornton in the Benelux, when designing and monitoring such measures it is important to have hard metrics in place. So-called Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) offer a solution for this. “It helps if you define KPIs for diversity topics such as ‘number or percentage of women in the organisation and in senior management positions’, ‘average salary for senior management per gender’ or ‘average turnover among men versus women’. 

A regional perspective

The research shows that Africa has the highest proportion of women in senior management, with almost two fifths (38%) of executive roles in the region held by females. The continent increased the proportion of women in senior management positions by seven percentage points since last year. This is mainly due to drastic reforms promoting gender equality over the last decade, including laws on both workplace sexual harassment and domestic violence. 

Latin America however experienced the biggest increase in the proportion of women in senior management, climbing by eight percentage points. #MeToo and similar movements have also helped to spur action in Latin America; not only to protect women, but also to raise awareness in society at large about the different treatment received by men and women. 

Two European regions – Eastern Europe and Southern Europe – also managed to grow their proportion of women in senior management roles. Conversely, Asia Pacific has the lowest figure, with 27% of senior managers in the region being female. 

Proportion of women in speci c roles, 2020 versus 2019

From a role respective, women traditionally are the most popular recruits for the HR Director function, and this continues to be the case. In a positive development, the number of women in CEO roles has increased. The role of CIO or IT Director is the least popular role taken up by women. 

The outlook

Van Wijngaarden stresses that mid-sized companies need to continue to place focus on gender equality in their management teams. Not just for the records, but also for their own benefit. Previous research from McKinsey & Company has shown that companies with diverse boards perform financially better, and similarly, another study by Boston Consulting Group has shown that diverse executive teams enjoy a more effective mix of skills and capabilities including creativity, empathy and out of the box thinking. 

The Grant Thornton partner expects that efforts already rolled out in the past years will still materialise. “Because it takes time before initiatives embedded in organisations translate into concrete results.”