Report reveals slow progress towards gender parity

A new report from professional services network Grant Thornton has highlighted the slow progress towards gender parity in senior management roles within mid-market businesses globally.

The ‘Women in Business 2024: Pathways to Parity’ report, recently launched highlights an urgent need for businesses to adopt actionable strategies to close the gender gap in leadership positions.

The report found that women now hold 34% of senior management positions worldwide, a marginal increase of just 1.1 percentage points from 2023. However, alarmingly, only 22% of mid-market businesses in the UK have a female chief executive officer or managing director, a significant drop from 30% last year.

The percentage of female chief financial officers, in contrast, has risen dramatically to 40%, up from 9% in 2012.

Slow progress despite gains

The research indicates that, although there has been a 15.5% point increase in senior positions held by women in the UK over the past two decades, progress remains disappointingly slow. Globally, the percentage of women in senior management roles has grown from 19% to 34% since the inception of the study. However, at the current rate, gender parity in senior leadership is not expected until at least 2053.

Impact of working styles

One notable finding is the impact of working styles on women’s representation in senior roles. Companies that primarily operate from offices tend to have fewer women in senior management compared to the global benchmark. The shift to flexible working practices, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, has been instrumental in promoting gender diversity. There is concern that a strong push to return to office-based work could reverse some of these gains.

Decline in female CEOs

A particularly troubling trend is the decline in the number of female CEOs, which has dropped to 19% from 28% last year. This indicates that while women are making strides into senior management, they are struggling to attain and retain the highest-profile leadership positions.

Pathways to parity

To address these challenges, Grant Thornton’s report outlines three critical pathways to achieving gender parity:

  1. Addressing Invisible Barriers: Businesses need to embed Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (ED&I) in their core strategies and proactively tackle the unseen obstacles that hinder women’s progression.
  2. Creating Psychologically Safe Environments: Companies must foster a culture where women feel safe to be their authentic selves, enabling them to speak up and contribute fully.
  3. Valuing Diverse Roles: Recognising and valuing roles typically filled by women, such as HR and finance, and acknowledging the importance of tasks often undertaken by women, like organising social activities and people management.

Positive trends in other roles

Despite the slow overall progress, the report highlights encouraging trends in other senior roles. For example, the percentage of women in HR director roles has increased from 11% in 2012 to 46% in 2024. Women’s representation as CFOs has grown from 12% to 39% and there has been an increase from 4% to 26% of female sales directors.

Grant Thornton’s ‘Women in Business 2024: Pathways to Parity’ report emphasizes the need for sustained and intentional efforts from businesses to achieve meaningful gender parity in senior management. Mid-market companies, known for their agility, are uniquely positioned to drive this change more quickly. By following the outlined pathways, businesses can make significant strides towards a more diverse, resilient, and successful future.

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