Glass ceiling still firmly in place
One step forward, another step back.
That is how independent assurance, tax and advisory firm Grant Thornton described the world’s progress when it comes to gender diversity in the workplace, particularly in senior management, based on the latest results of its annual International Business Report (IBR) titled “Women in business: New perspectives on risk and reward.”
The report, which drew data from interviews conducted with over 5,000 chief executive officers, managing directors, chairpersons and other senior executives across all industries in mid-market businesses in 36 countries, says that while the percentage of women in senior leadership roles this year has slightly risen to 25 percent (compared to last year’s 24 percent), the percentage of companies with no women in such roles has also risen at the same rate.
“It feels as if we’re taking one step forward and one step back,” says Marivic Españo, chair and CEO of P&A Grant Thornton. “This is a real concern for business growth as it suggests we aren’t maximizing the potential [of women] out there.”
Focusing on Asia-Pacific (Apac), the survey finds that the proportion of senior business roles held by women in the region rose from 23 percent in 2016 to 25 percent this year—growth which is driven largely by emerging economies such as the Philippines, India and Indonesia.
Here in the Philippines specifically, the survey reveals that women make up 40 percent of senior executives; additionally, it also states that 21 percent of businesses have women CEOs while 14 percent have women COOs.
On the other hand, the percentage of female leaders in developed Apac, which includes Japan and Australia, remained static at 13 percent, the report notes. Also, the percentage of businesses with no women in senior management across APAC has risen, from 31 percent in 2016 to 35 percent in 2017.
Such figures, according to the report, seem to reflect a “plateau” when it comes to pushing the gender diversity agenda in the workplace, or a “diversity fatigue.” Add to that issues such as macroeconomic and geopolitical uncertainty, which has business leaders training their focus more on “reducing costs and retaining talent, relegating diversity to a nice-to-have rather than a must-have.”
“We simply cannot let this happen while progress is still marginal. Companies today need to be more productive, more innovative, and, in many ways, more open if they are to thrive,” states Francesca Lagerberg, Grant Thornton global leader for tax services and sponsor of women in leadership, in the report.
Grant Thornton lists the following recommendations to improve diversity in the workplace:
Take action to speak up on diversity and embed change throughout the organization, not just at the top;
Encourage diverse leadership styles and role models; and
Invest in sponsorship programs, not just mentoring.
The report also specifies one area of business which could benefit the most from having a gender-balanced workplace: Risk management, or “the process of identifying, evaluating, and managing uncertainty.” The survey’s findings reveal that a more gender-diverse team results in better company strategies in addressing risks and opportunities, which go hand-in-hand.
“Men may be more inclined to take risks, and this can bring high rewards in the form of growth; but big bets can also go wrong,” the report reads. “The risk awareness of women might be a significant factor for success. Not only do women tend to moderate extreme behavior, they can possess a higher social sensitivity and take time to listen and acknowledge feelings such as danger and fear before carefully assessing the business risk and devising a strategic plan.”
“Businesses must heed these lessons: Many of today’s companies are still run by male-only teams, and they are in danger of myopia when it comes to risk,” Lagerberg notes. “As one of our contributors said, ‘The real risk to business is not getting women involved.’”
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