Number of women in top business roles falls

A global survey released on International Women’s Day has found that the proportion of senior business roles held by women in the UK has fallen from 21% in 2016 to 19% in 2017, just a 1% increase compared to the first survey in 2004, according to Grant Thornton

Data from the firm’s yearly survey of 5,500 businesses in 36 economies reveals that the percentage of businesses in the UK with no women in senior management has also risen from 36% in 2016 to 41% in 2017.

Globally, the proportion of senior business roles held by women has hit a high of 25%. However, the findings again show that progress is slow, with an increase of only 1% compared to 2016.

Grant Thornton’s data shows developing regions continue to lead on diversity, with developed economies lagging behind. Eastern Europe performs best, with 38% of senior roles held by women in 2017 and just 9% of businesses with no women in senior management.

Meanwhile, the MINT economies (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey) saw the most improvement, with the proportion of senior roles held by women rising from 24% in 2016 to 28% in 2017 and the percentage of businesses with no women in senior management falling from 36% in 2016 to 27% in 2017.

This is a significant contrast to the major economies of the G7, which have remained static at 22% of senior roles held by women and 39% of businesses with no women in senior management.

The research reveals the UK had the fifth lowest proportion of women in senior business roles, with Japan recording the lowest (7%) and Argentina second lowest (15%).

The countries with the highest proportion of senior roles held by women are Russia (47%), Indonesia (46%) and Estonia (40%).

Sacha Romanovitch, CEO at Grant Thornton UK said: ‘Established notions of leadership are letting women down. The “hero model” of leadership, where the individual commanding must be perfect and the job all-consuming, is still extremely prevalent, whilst more collaborative and inclusive forms of leadership are overlooked.

‘This is a real concern as it suggests businesses are squandering the full potential of their people. Businesses need to re-balance what leadership is to make it attractive to future leaders who expect the role to be interesting, meaningful, flexible and with reasonable reward too.’

As risk management moves into the spotlight in times of business uncertainty, Grant Thornton has also looked at the issues around gender diversity in senior teams tasked with managing risk.

The research suggests that men and women see risks and opportunities through a different lens, which provides a diversity of thinking when combined together.

According to Grant Thornton’s data men in the UK are more likely to see risk when considering issues affecting economic and political change, both nationally and internationally. The research also shows that women in the UK are more likely to consider if the new risk represents an opportunity than men.

Romanovitch said: ‘The increase in businesses lacking gender diversity in senior management comes at a time when companies need to develop resilience in the face of global volatility and increasing levels of uncertainty.

‘These findings challenge the presumption that women are more risk averse than men and highlights the crucial value that comes from having their voice at senior levels.’

Separately,  a report from Source Global Research, UNIDA and EY analysing career issues for women working in consultancy found that half of the women surveyed (50%) think that people in their organisation still think that having a career in consulting and looking after a family is mutually exclusive—as do 40% of men.

Many (41%) of women think their firm only pays lip service to gender diversity, while 61% say it is seen as career-limiting to take advantage of the opportunities around flexible working and maternity leave—and half of men agree (50%).

Source Global Research's report How to hold onto talent in the pinched middle is here.

Grant Thornton’s report Women in Business 2017: New perspectives on risk and reward is here.

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