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Women in Eastern Europe point the way to senior management

Annual business diversity tracker finds stagnation

As International Women’s Day approaches, new research from Grant Thornton reveals that Eastern European countries dominate the international league table for senior female business leaders, including seven of the top ten, with Russia at number one. However the proportion of women reaching the top tier of the business world has shown little progress over the past decade, leading to renewed calls for quotas, one of 12 recommendations set out in the report released today - Women in business: the path to leadership.

IBR Women in business 2015 league table

Grant Thornton’s research reveals that 40% of senior business roles in Russia are occupied by women, the highest in the world, and almost double the global average (22%). The next five countries on the list are all near neighbours: Georgia (38%), Poland (37%), Latvia (36%), Estonia (35%) and Lithuania (33%).

Francesca Lagerberg, global leader for tax services at Grant Thornton, said:
“The domination of Eastern European nations is explained by a complex blend of factors including history, culture and demographics. A thriving culture of female entrepreneurship is a legacy of the Communist ideal of equality of opportunity and this extends into the broad range of subjects women study in the region. Consequently we find women well represented in services industries too; and not just those traditionally with high numbers of women like healthcare and hospitality, but emerging industries such as financial services and technology.

“Simple demographics are undeniably at play too. Russia, for example, has 120 women for every 100 men.

“What can the rest of the world learn from Eastern Europe? Clearly there is no magic wand, but some of the recommendations we 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."

Globally, 22% of senior roles held by women is slightly up from 2004 (19%) but down from 24% last year, highlighting broad stagnation. Japan remains at the bottom of the list with just 8% of senior roles held by women, followed by Germany (14%) and India (15%). There have been pockets of improvement, however, with 26% of senior roles in the EU now occupied by women – an all-time high. This has been driven by France (33%), Sweden (28%) and Greece (27%). At the same time though the number in Latin America has fallen to 18% - an all-time low.

Francesca Lagerberg added:
“We’ve heard businesses talk the talk on gender equality for decades now, but still too few are walking the walk. Aside from the moral issue of ensuring equal opportunity for all, a more representative blend of women and men in senior roles just makes good business sense. If an economy is only using half its most talented people then it immediately cuts its growth potential.

“This presents real challenges not just for businesses but for governments, society and women too. 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 facilitating shared parental leave but also building the infrastructure to allow women to thrive in the workforce. This could, for example, include mandating quotas for women on boards.”

Support for quotas on the rise
Grant Thornton’s research also reveals increasing support among business leaders for the introduction of quotas. Globally, almost half (47%) of both male and female senior managers now support quotas to get women on the boards of large listed companies, up from 37% in 2013.

Francesca Lagerberg said:
“Quotas are a fairly blunt instrument but it is not surprising that more people are seeing it as the best tool we have at this point in time, given the absence of progress on women in senior leadership. And rising support for their introduction suggests that businesses are looking for change from the top – even if this requires a push rather than a gentle nudge.

“Interestingly though, support for quotas in Eastern Europe stands well below the global average at just 30%. The region’s success in facilitating the career paths of women into senior leadership is a lesson for the rest of the world, and highlights the importance of culture change, which is arguably more important than compulsory measures.”

The full report, 'Women in business: the path to leadership', outlines 12 recommendations for society, government, business and women on how to facilitate female career paths.

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