Number of women in senior management positions reaches new high

08 March 2022 3 min. read
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The number of women in senior management positions in UK businesses is at a record high, according to a new study. The figure is in line with the global average, which currently stands at 32%.

Since 2004, Grant Thornton’s Women in Business report has documented the number of women in senior management positions in mid-sized businesses. According to the latest edition of the study, that portion is now the highest it has been since the report’s records began.

Progress stalled briefly in the initial stages of the global pandemic. With various reports finding that women were disproportionately hit by the economic impacts of the Covid-19 crisis, the number of women in senior management positions endured a narrow fall in 2020. However, this year’s figures suggest that diversity efforts are back on track now.

Proportion of women in senior management roles globally, 2011-2022

According to Grant Thornton, at this current rate of change, senior management roles will be held 34% of the time by women by 2024. Meanwhile, the UK is enjoying even more dramatic change in this respect.

Though it is in line with the global average – also seeing 32% of senior roles held by women – the UK has seen this spread more evenly through its economy. According to Grant Thornton, only 2% of UK firms now state that they have no women on their senior management team, in contrast to 10% of global respondents. And with a global talent shortage continuing to force employers to re-evaluate how and where they source talent from, this change could accelerate further in the coming year.

Fiona Baldwin, Strategic Leadership Team sponsor for Gender at Grant Thornton UK, noted, “The global talent shortage is showing no signs of abating. Talented people have high expectations and lots of options, which gives them the upper hand in negotiations in a way not seen before. To attract and retain the best talent (of any gender), employers are having to rethink traditional approaches and build in flexible, hybrid ways of working. This change in how we work is ultimately benefiting many women who, in the past, were confined by systems that did not fit with personal responsibilities.”

Actions being taken to ensure employee engagement and inclusion

Indeed, Grant Thornton found that the blurring of lines between home and work caused by lockdowns has accelerated a change of attitudes which can support this change further. In 2022, 47% of bosses are promoting work-life balance and flexibility for staff – a 2% rise from the previous year – while 44% are installing new flexible and virtual working practices that will help them re-engage with marginalised aspects of the workforce, such as women. This is a 7% jump from previous figures.

Meanwhile, with 57% of global mid-market leaders expecting a skills shortage to be a major constraint to their businesses in the year ahead, 95% of global mid-market business leaders said they were taking action to foster employee engagement and create an inclusive culture. This includes the setting and reporting of targets and progress, such as pay gap reporting – creating scrutiny around talent management pipelines and more robust measurement of progress.

“Tracking, benchmarking, and rewarding progress are vital ways to ensure cultural change and challenge established gender norms,” added Baldwin, pointing toward Grant Thornton’s own practices. ““In the UK firm we use data to inform targeted action and have made significant efforts to improve our representation of women at a senior level.  During 2021 we saw evidence of progress with an increased proportion of women being promoted to partner and joining as external hires. This contributed to a more balanced representation of women at partner level (from 19% in 2020 to 22% in 2021).”