top of page

Women's leadership – one step forward and one step back

Updated: May 3, 2020

Over the years, we’ve kept an eye on Grant Thornton’s research on women and leadership and found it useful. Its 2018 report: Women in business: beyond policy and progress is no exception.

The good news: more businesses worldwide now have at least one woman in senior management. (A rise of 66% to 75% in the last year)

The bad news: the proportion of senior roles overall held by women fell worldwide. (25% to 24%)

Why? Put one woman on the senior leadership team and you can tick the gender equality box. But nothing changes at the broader senior level. Also, the one woman at senior level is just one voice, not many. If doesn’t change the culture of the organisation.

It’s still a labyrinth, but policies and practices together help

How to create real gender equality is a real labyrinth. Not one single, or even several, policy changes will do the trick. Instead policies together with real commitment to them seem to help.

So which policies are the most common? Here’s a list showing how common each one is worldwide.

  1. Equal pay (81%)

  2. Non-discrimination policies on recruitment (71%)

  3. Paid parental leave (59%)

  4. Flexible hours (57%)

  5. Part-time working (54%)

  6. Remote working (40%)

  7. Publication of data on gender equality (20%)

  8. Subsidised childcare (20%)

  9. Senior management pay linked to progress on gender diversity (17%)

  10. Quotas (15%)

It’s not clear which policies correlate with more women in senior management

If only it were that simple, but it isn’t. Policies only take you so far; the next step is the environment organisations create. Policies alone will have little impact, particularly if women cover (ie not be who they really are) and feel excluded. And this can be quite subtle.

Four leadership traits help women feel included

These are empowerment, accountability, courage and humility. Again, nothing we didn’t know here. But well worth repeating.

Culture is key

Of course, culture is critical. It always is. It feels like we’re making some progress towards greater gender diversity, but one interesting statistic points to a long-standing culture problem.

Africa and Eastern Europe have the highest percentages of women in senior leadership, compared with Europe and the Asia Pacific.

Think about it. In Africa and Eastern Europe, enterprises are likely to be newer and therefore less likely to be encumbered with a more stale male culture. Interesting and slightly depressing.


bottom of page