Eastern European countries dominate the international league table for senior female business leaders, including seven of the top ten, with Russia at number one.

According to Grant Thornton’s International Business Report (IBR) Australia doesn’t even make the top 20.

The report reveals that 40% of senior business roles in Russia are occupied by women, the highest in the world, and almost double the global and Australian average (22%). The percentage of women at the top in Australia is at the same level it was at in 2004.

According to Grant Thornton Head of Diversity and Partner, Nicole Bradley, the prominence of women at the top in Eastern European nations is explained by a complex blend of factors including history, culture and demographics. Female entrepreneurship is a legacy of the Communist ideal of equality of opportunity. 

“Clearly there is no magic wand, but Australia can learn a lot from Eastern Europe and some of the recommendations set out in our report - including changing societal norms around the role of women and eradicating gender bias - are directly drawn from what is working well in the region.

“Gender and culture diversity creates a high performing culture, which leads to better outcomes, innovation, creativity and ultimately allows the delivery of the best solutions to help businesses achieve their strategic plans.

“The trends revealed in the report therefore present real challenges not just for businesses but for government, society and women too. Society must adjust to changes in the way we live and work; for example, the stigmatisation of men who choose to stay at home for family reasons must end. Governments can support this by building the infrastructure to allow women to thrive in the workforce. This could include the Corporate Governance Council furthering the reporting measures for public companies.

“We welcome the federal government’s recent move away from paid parental leave to child care support packages. But, we hold concerns around the proposed means tested payment structure as it does not address the issue of women in leadership, by making the subsidy received by families sliding from 85% for a combined income of $60,000  to 20% for families earning $250,000, women who are at the precipice of becoming future leaders have to make hard choices between family and work life. 

“At Grant Thornton, we are working at creating an environment that supports diversity from the top down not because it is the right thing to do but because we believe in its strategic importance.

“It is clear that businesses across the board still have a long way to go to create a more level playing field at the top which will ultimately result in better growth opportunities for all,” stated Ms Bradley.

The full report, Women in business: the path to leadership, outlines 12 recommendations for society, government, business and women on how to better facilitate the female career.

Karen Kalkaus - National Brand & External Communications Co-ordinator
r +61 7 3222 0343   E karen.kalkaus@au.gt.com