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International Women’s Day sees more women in senior roles

Globally more women are making it into senior management roles than at any time since 2010

According to a Grant Thornton report released today, globally more women are making it into senior management roles than at any time since 2010. However, Australia’s progress has faltered, with the proportion of senior management positions declining 5% over the past two years.

To mark International Women’s Day 2013, Grant Thornton has released its annual survey of listed companies and private businesses, Women in Senior Management: Setting the stage for growth, which shows that globally 24% of senior management roles are now filled by women - up from 21% in 2012 and 20% in 2011.

However, it appears recent progress on gender diversity in Australia is being reversed, with the proportion of senior management positions held by women declining over the past two years. After peaking at 27% in 2011, this year we have returned to 2004 levels (22%).

According to Grant Thornton Head of Diversity and Partner Nicole Bradley, Australian businesses need to wake up to gender disparity and add this crucial ingredient to long-term growth and profitability.

“Whilst debate continues in Australia over what needs to be done to increase female representation within senior leadership positions, economies such as, China and Germany are already realising the benefits of balanced representation by more than doubling their women in senior management,” said Ms Bradley.

“Economies where economic growth is high there is greater diversity in their senior management teams. Women are playing a major role in driving the world’s growth economies, bringing balance to the decision making process and research shows outperforming companies without women being represented as senior management and boards.

Mature economies of the G7, where economic performances have been stuttering more so than in the high growth economies of Asia and the Far East, are also playing catch up in the diversity stakes. While over 60% of countries surveyed claim to have more women in senior management positions than four years ago, over half of all countries have less women in senior and board positions than they did 12 months ago.

Japan (7% of senior roles occupied by women), the worst performer, the UK (19%) and the USA (20%) are in the bottom eight countries for women in senior management. These economies are also experiencing low levels of growth, with GDP in Japan (1.9%), the UK (-0.1) and the USA (2.2%) in 2012 all modest. In contrast, top of the table for women in senior management is China, with 51%. GDP growth for 2012 there is expected to be between 7-8%. The top 10 also contains the growth economies of Latvia, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines.

Grant Thornton’s Workforce Advisory Partner, Rory Gregg, believes these results could be result of businesses being stuck in an “economic caretaking” period, focussing on survival and maintaining their business in uncertain economic times.

“Australian business leaders need to do more to ensure a greater proportion of the Australia’s working population, including women, are participating in the workforce if we are to address underlying productivity challenges”.

“The research found a positive relationship between the numbers of women in senior management and women on Boards however more needs to be done to strengthen the pipeline of talented woman in “non-traditional” roles such as engineering, technology and innovation , particularly within the formative years of their careers.”

How to get more women in senior roles? The IBR data reveals that flexible working, while welcomed by many, does not appear to be a determining factor in getting women into top positions. 72% of businesses in the poor-performing G7 countries provide flexible working, while in top of the table China only 27% of businesses offer flexible working, and only 40% in the BRIC economies.

In addition, while 55% of businesses worldwide said they would be against the idea of quotas for the number of women on executive boards of large listed companies, 41% of Australian businesses support the introduction of quotas on large listed companies

Ms Bradley added: “Things are heading in the right direction, but it is slow progress. Flexible working is not the only determining factor in increasing female participation in senior positions. In mature economies, the majority of businesses offer it but that isn’t translating into more women in senior roles or making it on to the board.

“What will ultimately spur businesses on to include more women in senior roles is the belief that their performance will improve and their growth will be healthier if they do so. What our research shows is that it is good practice, and those regions adopting it are currently outperforming those who aren’t.”

International Findings Of the 45 economies surveyed, 21 had a decline in women in senior management in the past year, and five countries have fewer women in senior management than 9 years ago. China has the most women in senior management (51%), followed by Poland (48%) and Latvia (43%). China and Germany have both more than doubled the proportion of women in senior management positions in the past year (China 25 to 51%; Germany 13 to 31%). At the bottom of the table are Japan where only 7% of senior management positions are filled by women, UAE (11%) and Netherlands (11%).

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Helina Lilley
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Notes to editors
The Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR) provides insight into the views and expectations of more than 12,500 businesses per year across 44 economies. This unique survey draws upon 21 years of trend data for most European participants and 10 years for many non-European economies. 

Data collection
Data collection is managed by Grant Thornton International's core research partner -Experian. Questionnaires are translated into local languages with each participating country having the option to ask a small number of country specific questions in addition to the core questionnaire. Fieldwork is undertaken on a quarterly basis. The research is carried out primarily by telephone.

IBR is a survey of both listed and privately held businesses. The data for this release are drawn from interviews with 6,627 businesses from all industry sectors across the globe conducted between November 2012 and January 2013. The target respondents are chief executive officers, managing directors, chairmen or other senior executives.

Any and all references to Grant Thornton International are to Grant Thornton International Ltd. Grant Thornton International is one of the world's leading organisations of independently owned and managed accounting and consulting firms. These firms provide assurance, tax and specialist business advice to privately held businesses and public interest entities. Services are delivered independently by the member and correspondent firms within Grant Thornton International, a non-practicing, international umbrella entity organised as a private company limited by guarantee incorporated in England and Wales. Grant Thornton International does not deliver services in its own name or otherwise. Grant Thornton International and the member firms are not a worldwide partnership.