Women in Business 2024: Defining pathways to parity


According to Grant Thornton International Ltd’s (GTIL) Women in Business 2024: Pathways to parity, there has been steady improvement in placing more women in senior management positions in mid-market companies.


The report, which looks back at 20 years of results from across the globe, outlines a vision of accelerated progress toward gender parity.


In 2004, women filled less than 20% of senior management positions. By 2023, they filled more than a third of such positions. And that progress has accelerated since the onset of the pandemic.


While the percentage of women in senior leadership positions has steadily increased over time, year-over-year data proves progress remains slow. The last year experienced just a 1.1% uptick overall, with variance across job titles and regions. If it continues at the current rate, we will not reach gender parity until 2053.


To combat this trend, this year’s report focuses on key best practices and pathways for organizations to facilitate faster progress toward parity. 

“I firmly believe it’s possible for mid-market businesses to achieve 50% of women in senior management positions within the next five years. The pathways are there – it’s now up to businesses to follow them. ”

Karitha Ericson

Global Leader, Network Capability and Culture, Grant Thornton International


The report outlines three key areas of focus to help organizations bring more women into senior management positions. Specifically, companies will do better if:

  • They define a diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) strategy and measure that strategy against specific goals.
  • DE&I efforts are led by a member of the C-Suite and collaborate with another female leader.
  • They implement a flexible work policy.     

And if businesses achieve these goals, the results will be powerful. Simply put, gender parity leads to better business outcomes.





Women in leadership: Progress by position


Year-over-year trends don’t represent long-term progress


While women made overall progress in the last year, the percentage of female CEOs dropped from 28% to 19%. In the United States, there was a 15% drop in the number of female CEOs. Departing female CEOs in larger companies cited public pressure, caregiving responsibilities and the need to behave more like men — an ingrained bias aggravated in times of economic uncertainty. That’s especially problematic because, as Ericson observes, “it is more difficult for women to be perceived positively when they speak up or disagree.” This points to a larger cultural issue: the need to create a psychologically safe environment where women are free to speak their minds.  


Despite year-over-year setbacks, many senior positions are trending in the right direction over time, with female CFOs, HR directors and sales directors recording especially impressive gains in the last 12 years.  





Pathways to parity: Strategies for success 


It is becoming increasingly apparent which business strategies and practices have the greatest impact on the ability of women to attain senior management roles, and the report outlines three specific pathways organizations should consider moving forward.


Pathway #1: A clear DE&I strategy is imperative.


One of the primary findings of the report is the importance of having a DE&I strategy in place. According to the report, firms with a DE&I strategy have the highest percentage of senior management roles held by women (38%) — slightly more than businesses with both a DE&I strategy and an ESG strategy (36%). 


Measurement also matters. The survey asked respondents which metrics they were tracking and found little variation between them in their impact on the percentage of senior management positions held by women. However, firms that measured DE&I impact had significantly higher percentage of women in senior management positions than firms that did not measure their DE&I efforts.


Pathway #2: Invite women to lead DE&I


The report also found that having women at the helm of DE&I initiatives has a direct correlation on the percentage of women in senior leadership positions at their firm. While having a senior leader buy-in is also imperative, the percentage of women in senior management positions increases when a member of the C-suite leads alongside another female leader.


Pathway #3: Create a flexible working model to support women leaders


According to the report, the percentage of primarily office-based environments has increased from 36% to 47% in the last year. Conversely, the percentage of hybrid work environments has decreased from 53% to 45%.


Yet, hybrid and flexible working arrangements have a positive impact on the growth of women in senior leadership positions. According to the report, firms with the highest percentage of women in senior leadership positions have a primarily home-based model. 


The disappearance of hybrid work environments affects women in senior management directly — resigning female CEOs cited caregiving responsibilities as one reason for leaving.  But it also affects progress indirectly — junior female executives may be less likely to join office-only firms and move into senior positions.




Building the pathway: Next steps to move forward


To make real progress toward gender parity, midmarket firms need to collectively commit to implement changes that are proven to make a difference.


To begin advancing along the pathways to parity outlined in the report, companies can:

  1. Ensure a female senior leader collaborates with another senior leader on DE&I initiatives.
  2. Create a standalone DE&I strategy and review it to ensure that it contains clearly defined metrics to track toward.
  3. Reevaluate return-to-office policies to empower more women with flexible working opportunities.

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