Women in business

Women in Business: progress has stalled and Asia Pacific is lagging

Stacey Davies Stacey Davies

Women are winning more leadership roles – but progress is patchy and the Asia Pacific region is lagging behind the rest.

These are some of the findings in Grant Thornton International’s report, Women in Business 2020: Putting the Blueprint into action, which showed women in the Asia Pacific region made up 27% of senior management roles, significantly lower than the leading region, Africa (38%), and also behind Eastern Europe (35%) and Latin America (33%). The regions which have performed the best seem to be those where businesses and governments are actively promoting gender equality – perhaps more is required in Asia Pacific.

The report also showed progress has been stagnant over the past two years when it comes to lifting the proportion of women at the top – but it’s not all bad news. There has been a significant increase since the study began 16 years ago: up from 19% of women in senior leadership positions in 2004 to 29% in 2019 and 2020. This is the highest percentage ever reached, and the proportion of companies with at least one woman in senior management around the world is at an all-time high of 87%.

Diversity initiatives on the rise

Our research also revealed that 78% of mid-market businesses globally are actively working on removing barriers to gender parity at senior levels, which is encouraging.  According to the latest research from Grant Thornton’s International Business Report, the number of businesses driving gender diversity has risen across every type of initiative. The top three initiatives were:

  • ensuring developmental opportunities (34%)
  • creating an inclusive culture (34%)
  • flexible working (31%).

 It’s impressive to see mid-market businesses actively implement purposeful initiatives that encourage progress and accessibility to leadership positions for women. Markets may start to see more women in leadership positions over the coming years as initiatives are embedded and begin to show results.  

Globally, 2019 saw a sharp rise in the representation of women at a senior level after significant changes in the social climate of the western world.  However, this year’s numbers have plateaued again and are still marginally short of the 30% level which is considered the tipping point for gender diversity at senior management level.

Creating an inclusive culture

We know that diversity  – a balance of people that more accurately reflects the community and your customers - is good for business. A variety of people means a wider knowledge base, different perspectives and better understanding of diverse markets and customers. Creating a truly inclusive culture is central to attracting, and getting the most from diverse employees who feel free to express their differences, contribute and to speak out in a safe environment. Internal culture needs to be both diverse and inclusive, but positive change won’t happen by itself, and policies on their own are not enough.  Transformational change will only take place when combined with real commitment from senior leadership. 

Our research has identified the pillars for change as:

  • championing the business case
  • knowing your diversity data
  • identifying and sourcing talent
  • opening up development and enhancement opportunities
  • retaining diverse employees
  • creating an inclusive culture.

New Zealand businesses looking to improve gender diversity can find suggestions in the 2019 Blueprint for action [ 561 kb ], which provides practical tips and actions for improving workplace diversity.

Women in business Women in Business 2020: Putting the Blueprint into action Download the report