Grant Thornton’s International Business Report (IBR) has been casting a light on the issue of gender diversity in senior management at mid-market businesses for 19 years, exposing barriers and identifying facilitators of change.
While progress on the overall number of women in senior leadership continues, this year’s research shows it is concerningly slow. On a global level, 32.4% of senior management positions in mid-market businesses are now held by women, an increase of just half a percentage point (pp) since 2022 and only 13pp since our research was first undertaken in 2004. At this rate just 34% of senior leadership positions will be held by women in 2025.
According to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap report, it will take another 132 years to address the global gender gap. [i]
Our research suggests that mid-market businesses must push for parity, and quickly. Intentional action from businesses is needed to accelerate progress.
Our research identifies a number of factors which could support this acceleration. Firstly, more women now hold the most senior positions than ever before – 28% of mid-market businesses now have a female chief executive officer (CEO) or managing director (MD), up from 15% in 2019. This trend is likely to lead to new diversity strategies, focused on increasing diversity at a senior management level and taking more businesses towards gender parity.
Secondly, external pressures around Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) factors demand the creation of new strategies, including a determined push towards more women in senior leadership. The establishment of global ESG standards and regulation is putting pressure on firms to form diverse leadership teams. Struggle to demonstrate diversity and a company may struggle to raise capital[ii]
Perhaps the most significant boost to achieving gender parity could come from a continued commitment from businesses to provide flexible working. This year’s IBR research shows that businesses which offer hybrid, flexible or home working outperform when it comes to women in senior management.
The more flexible the workplace, the more we see women getting into senior leadership. While some C-suite voices at this year’s WEF event in Davos called for the need to return to the office, [iii] caution is needed. Office-based businesses have the lowest percentage of women in senior management.
Flexible working is not without its challenges. Organisations must ensure they have a culture which supports and facilitates flexible working. The risk is businesses slide back into pre-pandemic habits – an intentional commitment to flexible working could help avoid this.
"The International Women's Day is another opportunity for us to highlight equality and further strengthen building up a global corporate culture of inclusion and equal opportunities without exclusion." says Vassilis Kazas, Managing Partner of Grant Thornton Greece.
"The latest data from the “Women in Business” survey confirms that the proportion of women in senior management continues to rise steadily, bringing us one step closer to full equality in the business world. The proportion of women in senior management positions globally worldwide is 32.4%, another year above the threshold of 30%, which is considered the minimum proportion required to have a decisive impact on the decision-making process in companies.
In this global effort to achieve equality in all aspects of our society, it is important to highlight measures that promote not only equality but also diversity and inclusion. In order to give the concepts of diversity and inclusion the value they should have in society as a whole, we must eliminate all types of stereotypes, discrimination and prejudice.
Ultimately, the success of an organization depends not only on its financial sizes, but much more on whether it fosters a work environment that embraces the uniqueness of each individual and highlights their special qualities. A safe environment where everyone can feel comfortable is the "key" to employees' personal and professional development and contributes to the creation of a fair and equal world".
In Greece, the percentage of women in senior management marked a significant increase of 9 percentage points in 2023, to 37% compared to 28% in 2022, reaching the highest level ever recorded, since the “Women in Business” survey was first undertaken in 2004. At the same time, the percentage of businesses with no women in senior management fell sharply to 11% from 22% last year, the second lowest level since the survey began.
The proportion of female Partners jumped to 25% in 2023, compared to only 5% in 2022, while the respective percentage on a global level stood at 8%. However, the proportion of female Chief Executive Officers (CEO) and Managing Directors (MD) fell to 14%, compared to 16% the previous year, while the proportion of female Chief Finance Officers (CFO) also fell by two percentage points, to 34% from 36% in 2022. The proportion of women holding HR Director positions rose to 24%, compared to 21% the previous year, while the percentage of women in Chief Information Officer (CIO) positions increased by 3 percentage points, to 7%.
Greek businesses report that the top actions they have taken to ensure employee engagement and inclusion in the past 12 months are: creating an environment where all colleagues can ‘speak up’ with ideas, issues and questions (37.3%), adapt existing learning and development programmes to the changing environment (28.4%), promoting work/life balance and/or flexibility for employees (27.5%) and monitoring employees’ mental health and/or wellbeing (27.5%).
In view of the above data, Katerina Koulouri, Partner, Head of People Experience & Culture of Grant Thornton Greece states:
"The changing Greek legislative framework has opened doors to some of those roles which have previously been occupied by men. Hybrid working has also had an impact, as it has ensured less bias in recruiting for these roles. While hybrid working certainly gives an opportunity for more balance between work and home life, and can bring the best of both worlds, it’s essential for women’s progression that the two elements don’t become blurred".
For her side, Alexandra Baltouka, Partner, Head of Marketing & Client Experience of Grant Thornton in Greece underlines:
"This day is not only about women. It is about everyone who feels alone, floating between boundaries, without a strong voice, but with a bold heart and light in their soul. It is our purpose to contribute to a meaningful tomorrow without stereotypes and exclusions, in a vibrant society with love and solidarity at its core. Businesses now increasingly realize that equal representation and respect for diversity in the workplace is a necessary step towards the formation of a society which embraces the uniqueness of each individual. It is our responsibility to create and sustain an environment where everyone can openly express their ideas, has access to equal opportunities and, above all, feels free to be themselves. Despite the remarkable progress that has been made in recent years, it is important to ensure that we remain on this steady upward path towards equality".