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International Business Report

Women in business 2018

Beyond policy to progress

The last year has seen global business take one step forward but one step back when it comes to gender diversity in leadership. The percentage of businesses around the world with at least one woman in senior management has increased significantly, rising from 66% in 2017 to 75% in 2018. However, at the same time the proportion of senior roles held by women has marginally declined.

This suggests that businesses may be focused on ticking the ‘diversity’ box to avoid an all-male leadership team, rather than creating an inclusive culture that leads to a genuinely diverse senior management team. Given this trend, Grant Thornton’s International Business Report (IBR) research set out to understand the role of policy in bringing about positive change and in countering cultural norms and unconscious bias that can hinder progress.

We find that business policy is abundant but the more policies a business has in place does not necessarily lead to that business having greater gender diversity. Policy alone, it seems, does not create real progress.

Complexity in translating good intentions into practice, and the presence of stereotypes about gender roles, are still barriers to progress. Many business leaders want their government to do more to address gender inequality in business leadership however the majority believe businesses and governments need to work collaboratively to solve the problem.

If policy is not driving more women to the top, despite widespread use, then what will?

Interviews we conducted with business leaders around the world suggest that the businesses creating real change are those whose policies and practices are rooted in a genuine conviction of the benefits of diversity. Therefore, we include a set of recommendations for business leaders in this report, outlining practical steps to drive change and increase gender diversity in business.

Diversity in senior leadership teams

What is holding businesses back? 

Many businesses globally are missing out on opportunities because of a lack of diversity in senior leadership teams. This means that a business does not necessarily reflect the markets or communities in which they operate, and it could be holding them back.

In our recent International Business Report (IBR) research into diversity, we captured the views of 2,500 business leaders in 35 countries. Our Diversity Snapshot, released one month ahead of our 2018 Women in Business report, explores the diversity of senior teams around the world by ethnicity, age and gender. This is the first time we have investigated business leaders’ attitudes towards these three key aspects of diversity.

On average, only 40% of businesses believe diversity is important to their success, and just 14% are taking action to improve the diversity of their senior team. 

We find that businesses are, for the most part, not ethnically or gender diverse. Age diverse teams are more common, although it is far from the norm to have a senior team member who is under 35 years old. The data show diversity only really improves when businesses both value diversity and have plans in place to support it. This is a valuable reminder that change will be difficult to achieve without leadership commitment.

The highlights shared in this snapshot are hopefully an important first step in broadening the debate on diversity in business. We want to help other businesses understand these diversity shortfalls and we have included some ideas for positive steps businesses can consider to help increase their diversity.

Our Women in Business research, now in its 13th year, provides a powerful benchmark on the participation of women in leadership teams and will be published on International Women’s Day, 8 March 2018.