Women remain underrepresented in senior and strategic management

10 March 2017 Consultancy.uk 6 min. read

Women continue to find themselves poorly represented in senior management roles, particularly in roles with strategic command. As it stands, around 25% of senior leadership roles are held by women, with little change booked over the past decade. Diversity creates a host of opportunities for businesses, both in terms of a broader risk analysis but also in terms of identifying new business opportunities.

In a new report from Grant Thornton, titled ‘Women in business: New perspectives on risk and reward’, the accounting and consulting firm explores the state of affairs for women in the higher echelons of the business world. The report is based on more than 5,500 interviews.

Proportion of women in senior leadership

The business case for bringing more women to the top of the business world, continues to be made – one study suggests that up to $655 billion is being lost from the current setup, while others suggest that more women at the top creates opportunities to escape the risks of group thinking as well as add broader perspectives to key market segments among businesses, as Francesca Lagerberg Global leader for Tax at Grant Thornton explains, “Many of today’s companies are still run by male-only teams and they are in danger of myopia when it comes to risk.” This is aside from business external considerations that too, impact business – profit – centric norms.

The proportion of women in senior leadership ticked up slightly in 2017, reaching 25%. The proportion has hovered at between 20% and 25% for more than a decade. While the trend was positive in 2017, other metrics paint a picture of continued struggle – around 34% of businesses have no women in senior leadership in 2017, up from 33% last year.

Proportion of senior management roles held by women

In terms of region, a different picture is disclosed. Some regions, particularly ASEAN and BRIC countries outperform the 25% average for the proportion of women in senior leadership role, coming in at 36% and 29% respectively in 2017. Africa and Emerging APAC too considerably outperform the average, at 29% apiece in 2017.

The G7 has a rather poor track record when it comes to female representation at the top of business, at 22%. North America managing 23%, unchanged on 2016, while the Eurozone has managed to slightly increase representation since last year, coming in at 26%, from 24%. Developed APAC is the worst performer by far, on 13%.

Top and bottom female representation by country

While Russia continues to take flak for their involvement in a range of global theatres, the country has managed to create a relatively even playing field when it comes to female representation within the business world – with 47% of the senior management team female. Indonesia comes second, on 46%, followed by Estonia, Poland and the Philippines, each on 40%. Japan, has the ignominy of coming in last place, on 7%, followed by Argentina and India, on 15% and 17% each. The UK, along with Brazil, has 19% of management team positions in the hands of women.

The research notes that Eastern Europe remains the forerunner when it comes to providing women leadership roles, at 38% on average, while also having one of the lowest levels of businesses without any females in leadership roles, at 9%. Africa as a region follows, with 29% of roles held by women and around 18% of businesses not employing women at senior management level.

Senior management roles held by women

The research also considered the number of women in key senior management positions, noting considerable differences, as well as changes in recent years. In 2017, women leaders were the most likely to find themselves in an HR director role, at 23% of total, followed by CFO, at 19%. The CEO role was held by women in 12% of cases, followed by 9% for the COO. The Sale Director role was the least populated by women, at 6%.

The research notes that women are particularly unlikely to have key strategic decision making roles across the board, even while there is a slight uptick (3%) in the number of women in the key CEO position.

A global comparison between men and women

The study also sought to understand the differences between men and women, on average across the different regions, when it comes to identifying risks and opportunities, as well as their likelihood to respond to risks. According to the firm, the current uncertain business environment, coupled with as Paul Badrick Chief executive officer Grant Thornton Johannesburg states, "diversity of thinking, diversity of experience and diversity of knowledge," all come together to "help to expand our views on risks and opportunities.”

In terms of a global comparison between men and women when it comes to identifying high risks and high opportunity, considerable differences exist across regions. In Africa, North America and Eastern Europe, women tend to be better at identifying risk. While in the Asia-Pacific and G7, men tend to be significantly and slightly respectively, better at voting high risks. In terms of the high likelihood for respondents to respond to risks, women tended to score below that of men on average, at 42% and 52% respectively.

In terms of identifying opportunities, women performed better in Eastern Europe, Latin America and North America. While men were more likely to see higher opportunity in the Asia-Pacific, by far, and ever so slightly in the G7. Elena Proskurnya, Managing Partner at Grant Thornton in East Europe remarks, “I belong to a society which has made it a priority to maximise every person’s potential for growth. Both women and men are supported to take risks and seize opportunities. It’s why, across Eastern Europe, women are taking leading positions even in areas that were previously perceived to be ‘men’s business’”.