Emerging Economies Overtake G7 in Gender Diversity at the Top

iStock_000010457824XSmallBy Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

A new Grant Thornton / Forbes Insights study [PDF] shows that the percentage of women in senior management roles around the world has now risen to 24 percent. According to the report, “Women in senior management: setting the stage for growth” the proportion of women in corporate leadership is now even with pre-recession levels. The percentage dipped to 20 percent in 2011 and rose to 21 percent in 2012.

Most striking in the study was how much greater the percentages of women in senior leadership in emerging markets were than in mature markets. For example, the proportion of female executives in China rose sharply to 51 percent this year (compared to just 25 percent last year). The Asia Pacific region reported much a much higher percentage (29 percent) of women in senior leadership than the European Union (25 percent), Latin America (23 percent), and North America (21 percent).

According to Francesca Lagerberg, Head of Tax at Grant Thornton UK and the new Global leader of Tax at Grant Thornton International, G7 countries should take notice – while these markets are stagnating along with their percentages of women in leadership, emerging markets are growing and so are their rates of female leaders. She said:

“The pioneer economies where economic growth is high have 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 the smooth running of their companies. In comparison, the mature economies of the G7 are now playing catch up. They need to wake up to gender disparity and add this crucial ingredient to long-term growth and profitability.”

Companies in emerging economies seem to be taking the value of gender diversity seriously. Will those in mature economies follow suit?

Global Increases

The study also showed sharp increases in the proportion of women in top jobs around the world. Grant Thornton interviewed thousands of executives across the globe to determine the rankings, which represent both publicly traded and privately-held companies.

In 2012, only 13 percent of CFO positions were female. Today, only a year later, it’s risen to 31 percent. Similarly, the number of female HR directors around the world has risen from 21 percent last year to 30 percent in 2013. Female Chief Marketing Officers and Sales Directors have both risen from eight percent last year to 13 percent this year.

This puts women in good standing to advance to more CEO roles in the coming years, the report notes. The proportion of female CEOs around the world has also risen this year, from nine percent last year to 14 percent in 2013.

Interestingly, the report indicates that in some countries, having at least one woman in senior management may lead a company to hire a female CEO. For example, half of companies (49 percent) in Thailand that have at least one woman in senior management have a woman in the CEO spot. In Denmark, Germany, and Latvia the proportions are 45 percent, 40 percent, and 38 percent respectively. In Japan, 29 percent of companies that have at least one woman in senior management have a female CEO. But the same trend was not the case in India, Hong Kong, Poland, or the UK – in these countries, only four percent of companies with a woman in senior management had a female CEO. In Turkey, the proportion was 2 percent. This should indicate that some of the challenges for hiring women to the top job are cultural.

One Size Does Not Fit All

Similarly, the report found that the prevalence of flex work at a country was not connected to its percentage of women business leaders. While China’s percentage of women in senior management (51 percent) was the highest of all the countries, it’s percentage of companies offering flex work was amongst the lowest, where 71 percent of companies do not offer flex work.

Yet, the report continues, “In Denmark and Finland, with 93% and 90% respectively offering flexible work schedules, women represent only 23% and 24% of senior management, and in both countries, fewer than 10% of respondents said they were seeking to hire more women into top roles over the next 12 months.”

This doesn’t mean that flexible scheduling doesn’t work for propelling women to the top ranks of companies. But it does indicate that countries should not seek out one-size-fits-all solutions for increasing the percentage of women in leadership. What works in one part of the world may not work in another.

What is clear, however, is that the areas that are seeing the most women in leadership correspond to the areas that are poised for the most growth, like China, Southeast Asia, and some of the former Eastern Bloc countries. And in fact, countries with the lowest rates of women in senior management – like Japan (7 percent), the UK (19 percent), and the US (20 percent), which are all in bottom eight countries for this measure – are also experiencing low levels of GDP growth.

Perhaps the key to growing an economy is ensuring that the best and brightest are promoted to leadership, regardless of gender.

1 Response

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    Sheila Kaur

    The report important however, numbers alone are not enough to tell for sure if women now on Boards are really adding to an incremental shift in the balance of power. The report perhaps could show some POWER MATRIX to confirm that women are being listened to while on the boards, and allowed to make independent decisions which will pave the way also for more intelligent independent women to rise up to the Board. The whole purpose of having WOMEN on the board is the shift of power in the hope of more balanced business decision making from ethics to product development and employee benefits.