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.
Source: Grant Thornton IBR
According to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap report, it will take another 132 years to close 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.
Why the mid-market should take the lead
Businesses in the mid-market are well positioned to push for parity. Many have embraced flexible, hybrid or home-working and have embedded leadership programmes, often providing mentoring and coaching as part of leadership succession planning. To accelerate progress, the mid-market sector needs more of these programmes, increased transparency on leadership pathways and a business culture which continues to be fully supportive of greater diversity in senior leadership.
At Grant Thornton, we firmly believe that increasing diversity, at a senior level and beyond, is the responsible thing to do and the right thing to do commercially, being a proven driver of performance.
To take the next step, and push for parity we must learn from our experiences, avoid the pitfalls which could derail progress and ensure there is long term commitment to the new ways of working. Our 2023 Women in Business report provides key insights into why and how mid-market businesses can do this.
i. www.weforum.org - It will take another 132 years to close the global gender gap, 2022
ii. msci.com - ESG and climate risks and opportunities
iii. www.thetimes.co.uk - Working from home is under threat — from employe