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Finance Industry News

Leadership progress for women stalls despite businesses taking more action than ever to increase gender diversity


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Leadership progress for women stalls despite businesses taking more action than ever to increase gender diversity


"It is extremely encouraging to see deliberate action taking place as businesses worldwide ramp up activities that encourage progress and accessibility to leadership positions for all genders."
Karen Campbell-Williams



78% of mid-market* businesses globally are actively working on removing barriers to gender parity at senior levels according to the latest research from Grant Thornton’s International Business Report.

The number of businesses driving initiatives such as ensuring developmental opportunities (34%), creating an inclusive culture (34%) and flexible working (31%), has increased across all those measured by the report.

However, progress for the representation of women in senior leadership positions globally has stalled. Women currently hold 29% of senior leadership positions, the same as last year.

In the UK, 29% of senior leadership positions are held by women – a 3% increase compared to 2018 (26%). The research shows progress since records were first collected in 2004, when only 18% of senior leadership positions were held by women (compared with 19% globally). 78% of UK businesses say they are taking action to improve gender balance in senior positions, higher than the EU average of 72% and in line with the global average (78%).

The UK currently has 17% female representation at CEO level, compared to a global average of 20%. The most common senior leadership positions for women both in the UK and worldwide are HR Director and Chief Finance Officer.

Karen Campbell-Williams, UK Head of Tax and Partner at Grant Thornton, and recognised last year in the Northern Power Women list, said:

“With International Women’s Day on the horizon next week, it is extremely encouraging to see deliberate action taking place as businesses worldwide ramp up activities that encourage progress and accessibility to leadership positions for all genders. We have seen improvement, both in the UK and globally, in the number of women in senior management since 2004.

“It is evident that the commitment to this agenda is there and efforts are being made to boost equality and create more inclusive working environments for everyone. These changes do take time to embed and it is likely that markets will start to see a better gender balance in leadership positions over time.

“However, there is no time to be complacent. Policies that ensure diversity of thought at the decision-making table, that address equal opportunity in career development and build inclusive cultures to encourage change, can’t just be a nice to have – they must be of paramount importance to businesses going forward.

“Once implemented, these policies should be regularly assessed to judge their effectiveness. While inclusive cultures and policies are critical, only when this is combined with true commitment from senior leadership, will real transformational change take place.”

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