Only 27% Of C-Level Execs Are Women. Why?

Great strides have been made getting women into education, but more needs to be done at board level, says Grant Thornton managing partner.

As we mark International Women’s Day in March it is an opportune time to look at global and local trends in relation to women in leadership.

Female leadership has been a long-standing matter with great leaps being made to promote women globally. Many believe this could be due to changing business dynamics and greater access to education globally which further supports and encourages women to break the ‘glass ceiling’.

When looking at the key attributes associated with leadership, it becomes evident that the participation of women on the board provides a diverse perspective on issues and ideas. We can’t forget that for most businesses 50 per cent of their target markets are women.

Greater diversity in decision-making produces better outcomes. For businesses, better decisions mean stronger growth, so it is in their interests to facilitate the path of women from the classroom to the boardroom.

The concern is that recent improvements in the access to education for women, especially in emerging markets, have not translated into higher proportions of women reaching the top of the corporate ladder. And while women are more likely to achieve these senior roles in emerging markets, there has been a worrying lack of movement globally over the past decade. There is clear evidence that we need actions rather than words.

Just one in seven delegates at the annual World Economic Forum gathering was female this year. This statistic alone explains why the issue of women in UAE businesses inspires so much passion and debate, emphasising that the path from the classroom to the boardroom is anything but straightforward.

Ironically, attendees in Davos looked at how gender balance can impact the bottom line for businesses, highlighting the example of the car market in which women influence 85 per cent of purchases worldwide.

Involving women at all stages of the production process, from design, to engineering, to marketing, could help businesses create products and services that appeal to both genders.

Grant Thornton has been tracking the proportion of women in senior management since 2004 and the research this year finds that the proportion of women in the most senior roles has stagnated at 24 per cent – the same as the result in 2012, 2009 and 2007. The question this raises is: what are the roadblocks on the path to senior management?

The discussion needs to start by looking at education, an essential building block of any career. We find some positive news here, with female participation in education soaring in many economies over recent years, particularly emerging markets, which have traditionally lagged behind.

In fact, we have now reached a point where there are more women studying in tertiary education than men, although whether the subjects they are studying prepare them appropriately for jobs in senior management is debatable.

Regionally, quotas which have been announced within the UAE will move the gender inequality into a dynamic place over the coming years. We are already beginning to see the shift in balance with a number of qualified entrepreneurial women adding to business start-ups and key industries across the region.

Furthermore, businesses across the UAE need to embrace the change and empower its women to reach the boardroom so that dynamic females can continue to not only bridge the gender gap but can also significantly make a difference by adding insight to support business growth.

At Grant Thornton UAE, we encourage and support our female employees to be a part of the Women’s International Leadership Link network, which is developed and managed by Grant Thornton International to support, encourage and promote females within the workplace.

We also introduced the first female director to the leadership team, which further endorses our commitment to promoting a culture of inclusion and empowerment and recognises how a diverse board can further endorse a dynamic business to grow.

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum said, “Women have proved themselves in many workplaces and we want them to have a strong presence in decision making positions”. The inevitable change in dynamics will lead to the make-up of the boardroom in 10 years’ time being much more balanced, inclusive and diverse than ever before.

Hisham Farouk is managing partner of Grant Thornton UAE