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International Business Report

Women in Business 2023

The need to ‘Push for parity’

Grant Thornton International Business Report research shows stalling of progress on women in senior leadership 

A pandemic-prompted change in working practices has brought about only slight progress for women in senior leadership, according to Grant Thornton’s 2023 International Business Report (IBR) research into women in business in the global mid-market. Unless businesses develop cultures that empower people through flexible ways of working and take additional steps to support women into senior leadership positions, only 34% of senior leadership positions in mid-market businesses globally will be held by women in 2025. While progress on the overall number of women in senior leadership continues, Grant Thornton’s latest research reveals it has been stagnant, or slow at best, increasing only half a percentage point to 32.4% globally in the past year, and stagnant at 39.8% amongst African businesses. 

“African businesses reached the 30% threshold for women in senior management in 2018, beyond which businesses are expected to accelerate towards more gender balanced workplaces. This was followed by accelerated growth to 38.1% by 2020. It is concerning that between 2022 and 2023, progress in Africa has plateaued at 40%. It is clear that renewed impetus towards more gender balanced workplaces is imperative, to fully reap the benefits of diversity.”, noted Olivia Muzvidziwa, Director - Taxation at Grant Thornton Botswana. “With the increasing emphasis on global standards and corporate social responsibility, diversity and inclusion, companies are under pressure to, among other things, form diverse leadership teams, and remain attractive to investors.” 

The research shows that many mid-market businesses have focused on succession planning to get more women into senior leadership positions, including implementing programmes for mentoring, coaching, leadership development, and wellbeing. Businesses should now focus their attention on developing more transparent pathways to leadership and more transparency across recruitment, promotions, and performance. Additionally, a significant boost to the number of women in leadership roles will come from more businesses committing to flexible working and developing the right organisational culture to support it. Grant Thornton’s research has found that flexible, hybrid and home-based models have the highest levels of women in senior leadership roles. In mid-market businesses that have adopted a hybrid way of working, 34% of senior leaders are women, while in businesses that are fully flexible where staff choose how they work, it’s 36%. Just 29% of senior management is female in mid-market businesses with predominantly office-based models.

“Businesses with hybrid working practices are more promising for women to reach senior leadership roles. The organization should embrace a culture and commitment to the new ways of the working, which is vital.”, says Sangeeta Aswin, Associate Director - Admin and Finance at Grant Thornton Botswana. Amid a global skills shortage and talent crisis, businesses that adopt flexible working may also reap the benefits of improved cross-border working and access to a larger talent pool, such as people with disabilities, those living in geographically remote locations or those seeking better work/life balance. Sangeeta further notes that “Businesses which already embraced this way of working thrived during the pandemic, as they were able to switch to remote working quickly. Crucially, these workplaces had the right culture to empower people to work in this way. However, flexible working is not without its challenges. Organisations which look to work more flexibly now, post-pandemic, must ensure they have the business culture to support it. This includes building workplace cultures that guard against potential pitfalls of hybrid working, such as women being left out of critical relationship building and decision-making.” 

Peter Bodin, CEO of Grant Thornton International Limited notes that encouraging a diverse workforce at every level with a global focus on gender is a key focus of the Grant Thornton network strategy - “Our commitment is to accelerate our progress in this area and to foster psychologically safe environments where everyone feels empowered to be their best,", he says. “We know we must be intentional and decisive to push for parity, and other businesses must do the same to remain robust, resilient, and relevant in the ever-changing market.”

“Greater diversity positively impacts businesses – it widens the talent pool, boosts business performance, enhances the brand and results in better outcomes and decisions. Diversity across borders brings wider perspectives, improves employee engagement, encourages a growth mindset and creates an environment conducive to creativity and innovation. To attract the best talent, diversity is critical.”, says Olivia.

Women in Business Report 2023: For 19 years, Grant Thornton has cast a light on issues surrounding gender diversity in senior management among the world’s mid-market businesses, exposing barriers and identifying actions for change.