Progress in female leadership will remain slow in 2025 unless businesses put in additional effort to enable women to take up senior leadership position, said Grant Thornton recently.
While progress on the overall number of women in senior leadership continues, the firm’s latest research reveals it’s been slow, increasing only half a percentage point to 32.4% in the past year, and only 13% since the research was first undertaken in 2003.
According to the firm’s 2023 International Business Report (IBR) research into women in business in the global mid-market, only 34% of senior leadership positions in mid-market businesses globally will be held by women in 2025 unless businesses develop cultures that empower people through flexible ways of working and take additional steps to support progress in female leadership.
The 30% threshold was seen as a tipping point which would trigger an acceleration toward more gender balanced workplaces, said Karitha Ericson, global leader of network capability and culture at Grant Thornton International.
“Given the incremental change since mid-market businesses in our research reached 30%, it’s clear we now need to inject greater determination to fully reap the benefits of diversity,” she pointed out. “The increasing emphasis on corporate responsibility and global standards is putting pressure on firms to form diverse leadership teams, and not doing so will make it more difficult to raise capital and attract 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.
How to speed up progress in female leadership
Businesses should now focus their attention on developing more transparent pathways to leadership and more transparency across recruitment, promotions, and performance, Grant Thornton suggested.
“Clarity and equal opportunity regarding every aspect of leadership roles, from recruitment to performance reviews, is crucial,” said Ericson.
In addition, 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 noted.
The firm’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%, the report states.
Just 29% of senior management is female in mid-market businesses with predominantly office-based models, the report adds.
“With many businesses not embracing hybrid or flexible ways of working, women are being forced to consider part-time work, which could stifle their career progression,” Ericson pointed out. “And businesses that don’t have flexible working practices tend to be less attractive workplaces to senior women.”
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, Grant Thornton said.
However, flexible working is not without its challenges, Ericson said.
“For businesses that look to work more flexibly now, post-pandemic, must ensure they have the business culture to support it,” she advised. “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.”
Overall, the research found that men are more likely to say that their business encourages an open-door policy among management, while women say that this isn’t occurring as often, she added.