APAC lags behind the world in gender diversity in senior management

| 09 Mar 2021

To commemorate International Women's Day 2021, Grant Thornton's latest report tracking the global progress of women in senior management surveyed approximately 5,000 mid-market businesses in 29 countries reveals that encouraging progress on gender diversity in business seen globally except the APAC region in 2021.

The report finds that all regions surveyed except APAC (28%) have now surpassed the crucial 30% threshold of women leadership, which research shows is the minimum representation needed to change decision-making processes.

Globally, the proportion of senior management roles held by female increased from 29% in 2020 to 31% in 2021 despite the unprecedented challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

9 out of 10 businesses worldwide now have at least one woman in their leadership teams, representing a significant landmark. By comparison, in 2017 only 66% of businesses having at least one female leader.

The positive trend could attribute to the work by businesses on their diversity and inclusion policies. It is also possible that the global pandemic has emphasised the importance of diverse leadership in a time of crisis.

Mabel Chan, deputy managing partner at Grant Thornton Hong Kong, said: “It is extremely encouraging to see gender parity growing across the globe. This is notable in a year when every region suffered the economic impacts of the pandemic to a greater or lesser degree. Reaching the milestone of 30% female leadership is predicted to catalyse greater gender diversity in senior management and engender lasting transformational changes.”

More women across operational C-suite roles

Another encouraging finding is the types of leadership roles women are occupying.

Grant Thornton’s research reveals higher numbers of women across operational C-suite roles in 2020 compared to 2019, with the proportion of female CEOs up 6 percentage points to 26%, female CFOs also up 6 percentage points to 36%, and female COOs up 4 percentage points to 22%.

The proportion of women in the more traditional senior HR roles fell slightly to 38% from 40% in 2019 and has trended downwards since 2019.

Mabel Chan commented, “While the number of women in leadership roles has grown, questions remain over the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women, particularly working mothers. Virtual working may help some women get into certain roles and make those roles more manageable.”

New leadership style needed

Grant Thornton’s report also finds that a new style of leadership has emerged with empathy rising as one of the vital characteristics for today’s leaders in the new normal world shaped by the pandemic.

In the post-pandemic world, empathetic leaders will be the ones who get the most out of their teams as they are inclusive and can create a collaborative environment where people feel safe to contribute ideas.

Recognition of the importance of empathy, among other skills, is now creating opportunities for women to advance.

Mabel Chan concluded, “To sustain long-term success and grow diversity and inclusion of the companies in the new normal era, it is important for leaders to demonstrate specific traits, including adaptability, resilience, the ability to collaborate and in particular, empathy.

“Although the pandemic has created a window of opportunity to include more women in senior management, persistent and deliberate action is still the most important strategy in increasing the proportion of women in senior leadership. Transformational change always takes a long time.”

The definition of mid-market varies across the world: in mainland China, it interviewed businesses with US$5 million to US$500 million in revenue; in the United States, those with US$100 million to US$4 billion in annual revenues; in Europe, it is commonly those with 50 to 500 employees.