Latest research shows the UK being outstripped by Eastern Europe when it comes to the number of women in the boardroom. What can we do to raise our almost static figures out of the doldrums?
For more than 10 years, Grant Thornton’s International Business Report has been charting the number of senior female executives in boardrooms around the world. As International Women’s Day approaches, we publish our latest research: Women in business: the path to leadership.
The latest figures clearly show that, while the proportion of senior roles held by women across the EU has slowly increased – from 17% in 2004 to 26% in 2015 – the UK’s figures have remained disappointingly static: 22% in 2015, a rise of just 4% in the past decade, with only 14% at board level.
Eastern European countries now dominate the international league table, including seven of the top 10. Russia leads with 40% of senior business roles occupied by women, almost double the global average (22%). Francesca Lagerberg, global tax leader at Grant Thornton, explains why: “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. Simple demographics are also undeniably at play. Russia, for example, has 120 women for every 100 men.”
But with different societal norms in Western Europe, some have resorted to setting quotas to redress gender imbalances. The biggest improvements this year have been in France (33% compared with 21% in 2004) and Spain (26% from 14%), both of which introduced legislation for larger companies.
So, what next for the UK? Our report suggests that the responsibility for change lies where the barriers are created: with society, business, government and women themselves. Below are the 12 recommendations to facilitate gender diversity – you can read them in-depth in Women in business: the path to leadership.
How can businesses encourage board diversity?
1. Make a top-level commitment to support women leaders.
2. Design leadership positions to be more attractive.
3. Invest in mentoring and sponsorship programmes.
What can women do to step up to senior roles?
4. Put your hand up for stretch assignments.
5. Push yourself out of your comfort zone.
6. Challenge your organisation to tackle gender bias.
How can government support senior women in business?
7. Consider mandating quotas for women on boards.
8. Facilitate shared parental leave.
9. Build the necessary infrastructure and legislation.
How does society hold female leaders back?
10. Stop holding them up to a higher standard.
11. End the stigmatisation of men who share childcare.
12. Outdated business leadership stereotypes need updating.
At the UK firm of Grant Thornton, we are about to welcome a new female CEO: Sacha Romanovitch. In the report, she attributes some of the gender gap to women needing more encouragement to step up. For example, she often needs to approach junior female colleagues to take on stretch assignments, whereas their male peers will put their hands up even if they are under qualified; “These women just don’t know how good they are,” she says.