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Disappointingly slow growth in the number of female leaders - we show how flexible working is affecting this

While the proportion of women in senior management positions worldwide has risen from 19.4% to 33.5% in two decades, progress has been disappointingly slow - up just 1.1% compared to last year. However, there are also sub-sectors where progress is faster: 46% of medium-sized companies have a female HR director, 39% have a female finance director and 26% have a female sales director.

A középvállalatok majdnem felének van női HR-igazgatója-

Towards Equality: 20 Years of Women in Business report published by international business and tax consultancy Grant Thornton 2024. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the regular survey, which tracks the number of women senior managers in medium-sized companies worldwide.

This year's survey shows slow growth

This year's report shows that 33.5% of senior management positions worldwide are held by women, an increase of just 1.1 percentage points since 2023. 19% of mid-sized companies have a female CEO or managing director, compared to 28% in 2023, a markedly significant drop in just one year.

The responses from CEOs of larger companies suggested that public pressure and barriers to leadership were behind this surprising phenomenon, while they also explained their decision by feeling that they were expected to behave more like men in these roles.

When the firm started tracking the percentage 20 years ago, only 19.4% of senior positions were held by women. Since the pandemic, progress has accelerated but is still slow.

At the current rate of progress towards gender equality, we can expect to see an equal proportion of women and men in senior positions in companies by 2053.

In other areas the picture is much more positive

There are also sub-areas where progress is much more rapid. 46% of mid-sized companies have a female HR director, 39% have a female finance director and 26% have a female sales director.This represents a 20-35% increase in all three areas over 10 years.

A clear picture emerges from the report. In order to achieve a more equal gender distribution in the number of senior management positions, companies should take significant steps towards flexible working arrangements, in addition to implementing the DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) strategy.

Increasing home office - Who benefits?

In the last 12 months, there has been a dramatic shift back to office-based working among global mid-sized companies.In 2022, only 36% of companies worked primarily from an office location, a year later this figure has risen to 47%, and while hybrid working was previously offered by 53% of companies, this has now fallen to 45%. The numbers clearly show that male CEOs are behind the decline: in workplaces where employees are primarily office-based, the proportion of women in senior management positions falls below the global benchmark.

The provision of flexible working opportunities has a significant impact on the number of women in senior management.

"We can say that at middle management level we have achieved 50-50% parity between women and men, but at senior management level the ratio is already shifting in favour of men, so we still have work to do on our efforts towards parity.

Diversity is also important for customers and employees. Our key strategic objective is to maintain flexible, hybrid working options so that we can compensate our female employees and managers for any labour market disadvantages that may arise from their diverse life situations," Zsófia Vajna, HR Director at Grant Thornton Hungary, told us.


DEI strategy - the cornerstone of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

The DEI strategy aims to reduce inequalities and create a culture of inclusion in the workplace. Ensuring equal treatment and opportunities for all employees not only improves workplace culture, but also boosts creativity, innovation and productivity.

The DEI strategy reflects a long-term commitment to equality, equity and respect for diversity.

According to Grant Thornton's survey, not only is it key for a mid-sized company to have a measurable DEI strategy, but it is also important to increase gender equality by ensuring that the DEI strategy is separate from the much broader ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) strategy and that at least one woman is at the head of the strategy.

When a CEO of any gender leads DEI with a female leader, 38% of the leadership positions are held by women.

In the absence of an ESG and DEI strategy, this proportion drops to 28%.

The report's data comes from a survey by Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR). Launched in 1992, the IBR now surveys around 10,000 business leaders in 28 countries each year, providing insight into the economic and trade issues affecting the growth prospects of companies worldwide.

Widening pay gap: for every pound earned by a man, an average of 90 pence is earned by a woman - read our previous article!

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