Women in Business - The Path to Leadership
Women in Business – The Path to Leadership

Diversity is high on the agenda for most forward thinking Australian organisations and new research which shows that Australia is down around the bottom third in global rankings, behind countries such as Russia, Turkey, China and Thailand, when it comes to the number of women in senior business roles hurts.

Tax advisory firm Grant Thornton has been tracking gender diversity in business for more than 10 years. Their 2015 report reveals Russia as the world leader in terms of the number of women in senior roles in business.

According to the report, 40 per cent of senior business roles in Russia are occupied by women, the highest in the world, and almost double the global average (22 per cent). The next five countries on the list are all near neighbours to Russia: Georgia (38 per cent), Poland (37 per cent), Latvia (36 per cent), Estonia (35 per cent) and Lithuania (33 per cent). Australia is right in line with the global average with an average of just 22 per cent of senior business roles occupied by women.

According to Grant Thornton Australia’s Head of Diversity, Nicole Bradley, the prominence of women at the top in Eastern European nations is explained by a complex blend of factors including history, culture and demographics. Female entrepreneurship is a legacy of the Communist ideal of equality of opportunity.

So what can Australia do catch up with Eastern Europe? Grant Thornton says it is time for organisations to start acting on gender equality.

“Clearly there is no magic wand, but Australia can learn a lot from Eastern Europe and some of the recommendations set out in our report – including changing societal norms around the role of women and eradicating gender bias – are directly drawn from what is working well in the region.

“Gender and culture diversity creates a high performing culture, which leads to better outcomes, innovation, creativity and ultimately allows the delivery of the best solutions to help businesses achieve their strategic plans.”

Ms Bradley says the trends revealed in the report present real challenges not just for women and businesses, but for government and society more widely.

“Society must adjust to changes in the way we live and work; for example, the stigmatisation of men who choose to stay at home for family reasons must end. Governments can support this by building the infrastructure to allow women to thrive in the workforce. This could include the Corporate Governance Council furthering the reporting measures for public companies,” said Ms Bradley.

“It is clear that businesses across the board still have a long way to go to create a more level playing field at the top which will ultimately result in better growth opportunities for all,” stated Ms Bradley.

Grant Thornton makes a series of recommendations to government, society, business and women as a result of the research, which it says will smooth the path for women into business leadership roles and better facilitate the female career path. For businesses these recommendations include:

Making a top level commitment to support women leaders

The report says businesses need to recognise that female advancement is integral to future prosperity by making a top-level commitment to facilitate women’s career paths. An increasing number of companies of differing sizes are making these commitments to women’s leadership and advancement and laying them out in company policies, including addressing unconscious gender bias in the workplace and in hiring practices, and introducing formal mentoring and sponsorship programmes. While real change will not happen overnight, such policies ultimately provide a baseline to allow businesses to support and attract the women who will help them grow.

Designing leadership positions to be more attractive

The report suggests that many of the ways in which companies currently do business make leadership positions unattractive to women. Holding breakfast and dinner meetings, and networking events after work, not only makes life hard for women (and men) with other commitments, but it puts them off wanting to join senior leadership in the first place. Leadership roles that offer greater flexibility to allow for family or other obligations are increasingly attractive, however flexible working is offered by just 63% of businesses around the world.

Investing in mentoring and sponsorship programmes

According to Grant Thornton most of the senior leaders they spoke to said they had benefited from the guidance of at least one mentor or sponsor on their path to promotion. Businesses that make a commitment to women’s leadership by easing barriers and providing support structures, such as mentoring and sponsorship programmes, make an important contribution by helping to shift perceptions and create role models both inside their organisations, in their industries and the wider economy.

 The top ten nations for women in senior leadership positions are:

  1. Russia – 40%
  2. Georgia – 38%
  3. Poland – 37%
  4. Latvia – 36%
  5. Estonia – 35%
  6. Lithuania – 33%
  7. France – 33%
  8. Armenia – 29%
  9. Sweden – 28%
  10. South Africa – 27%

And the bottom ten:

  1. Japan – 8%
  2. Germany – 14%
  3. India – 15%
  4. Brazil – 15%
  5. Argentina – 16%
  6. Botswana – 16%
  7. Netherlands – 18%
  8. New Zealand – 19%
  9. Indonesia – 20%
  10. Nigeria – 21%

Further reading

To read the report in full and learn more about Grant Thornton’s 12 recommendations click here


This Better Workplace Bulletin was first published in July 2015