Eastern Europe leads the way for women to the top

23 March 2015 Consultancy.uk 3 min. read

Eastern European countries are leading the way in appointing female top executives, research by Grant Thornton shows, with Russia, where 40% of senior management roles are held by women, leading the pack. The report however also shows that the percentage of women in senior roles only increased slightly in the past 10 years. According to the firm, the gender gap leaves much talent is un-used. To address this issue, the firm offers 12 key recommendations.

A recently released report by Grant Thornton, titled ‘Women in business: the path to leadership’, for which it conducted 5,404 interviews in 35 economies and 20 in-depth interviews with senior business leaders, highlights that Eastern European countries are leading the way in the number of female business leaders. The report however also reveals that the proportion of women did not show much improvement in the past decade, with 22% of senior roles held by women in 2015. This is only slightly up from 19% in 2004 and down from 24% in 2014.

Comparing countries, the consulting firm found that Russia, with 40% of its senior roles held by women, is leading the pack, a percentage almost double the global average. Russia is followed by its Eastern European neighbours; Georgia (38%), Poland (37%), Latvia (36%), Estonia (35%) and Lithuania (33%). Commenting on this, Francesca Lagerberg, Global Leader for Tax Services at Grant Thornton and sponsor on people and culture issues, says: “The domination of Eastern European nations is explained by a complex blend of factors including history, culture and demographics. A thriving culture of female entrepreneurship is a legacy of the Communist ideal of equality of opportunity […]”

Proportion of senior managment roles held by women

The country with the least amount of women on the top is Japan with only 8% of top roles held by women and 66% of its companies without any female leaders, followed by Germany (14%) and India (15%). 

Women working in the education and social services or healthcare industry are most likely to land a senior management role, with 41% of leadership roles in these industries held by women. This is followed by the hospitality industry (33%), food and beverage (27%), financial services (25%) and professional services (24%). Women are least likely to progress to senior management in the mining and quarrying industry, where only 12% of top roles are held by women.

Proportion of senior management roles held by woman - by industry

Parenthood (mentioned by 28%) and other family obligations (24%) are the reason most cited by women hindering their advancement into senior leadership. This compared to 21% and 20% of men, who believe that ‘a lack of female candidates putting themselves forward for promotion’ is the top reason why women do not succeed to senior roles.

The lack of women on the top poses challenges for the global economy. Lagerberg explains: “Aside from the moral issue of ensuring equal opportunity for all, a more representative blend of women and men in senior roles just makes good business sense. If an economy is only using half its most talented people then it immediately cuts its growth potential.” To help resolve this issue and smooth the path for women into business leadership roles, Grant Thornton concludes its report with twelve recommendations for society, governments, businesses and women.

Barriers to women entering senior management in their organisation


  • Stop holding female leaders up to a higher standard
  • End the stigmatisation of men who share childcare
  • Update the out-dated business leadership stereotype


  • Consider mandating quotas for women on boards
  • Facilitate shared parental leave
  • Build the necessary infrastructure and legislation


  • Make a top-level commitment to support women leaders
  • Design leadership positions to be more attractive
  • Invest in mentoring and sponsorship programmes


  • Put your hand up for stretch assignments
  • Push yourself out of your comfort zone
  • Challenge your organisation to tackle gender bias