Twenty years of women in business insights

2024 marks the 20th year of Grant Thornton’s work to monitor and measure the proportion of women occupying senior management roles in mid-market companies around the world.

Sinead Donovan comments on the findings of the 2024 Women in Business Report.

There is no doubt that the landscape has shifted in the past decade and gender parity is very much on the agenda of policymakers, the c-suite, and people leaders in organisations. It is also heartening, for the most part, to see the value that is now being placed on diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) policies across businesses in all sectors.

However, the Women in Business Report reminds us that progress in the area of gender parity is fragile and can be knocked easily. This year’s report reported a small increase of 1.1% in the number of women in senior management roles globally and a very alarming 10% decrease in the number of women in senior management roles in Ireland.

The reason for this decrease needs to be carefully scrutinized so that we understand why the shift. This is critical, as there is no doubt that gender parity needs to remain a clear goal for successful businesses.

This year’s Women in Business Report speaks to two decades of insights gathered by Grant Thornton and proposes three clear pathways to increasing the number of women in senior management roles. These include appointing a member of the c-suite in businesses to help steer the direction, developing robust DE&I strategies with tangible outputs, and ensuring there is a flexible working arrangement that supports employees.

Gender parity is a real opportunity and should be regarded in that light. Business leaders have an onus to ensure we continue to move in that direction, and I would really call for a greater sense of urgency in boardrooms to develop a pathway to truly achieving gender parity. I believe we need to see the pace of progress quicken in this regard."

Sinead O'Donovan

Progress on parity is still too slow

When Grant Thornton first began its research, just 19.4% of senior management roles were held by women in the mid-market. Today, that figure stands at 33.5%. While this is progress, and there has been some acceleration since the pandemic, it is disappointingly slow. At this current rate of change, the mid-market will not reach parity on women in senior management roles until 2053.

Our data from this year’s research indicates that the progress achieved so far is fragile. We have seen a dramatic decrease in the percentage of female CEOs, suggesting a shift away from women holding positions of real power within an organisation. This sounds a warning bell to us all that it’s not enough just to get women into senior management roles – determined action is also needed to keep them there. We must focus, or we might start to go backwards.

Pathways to parity

While our research allows us to measure progress, it also enables us to understand what needs to change to accelerate it – to identify the business configurations that can drive change and provide actionable steps businesses can take.

Mid-market companies are key drivers of the global economy, and it is their agility and their ability to make significant changes in a short period of time that sets them apart. If they adopt these pathways to parity in significant numbers, based on our experience, 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.

Our three pathways to parity:

  • Our three pathways to parity:

    Who leads Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I)efforts within an organisation is key.

    A member of the C-suite needs to take responsibility, but they must work alongside another female senior leader. This pairing has a clear positive impact on the percentage of senior management roles held by women. 

  • Our three pathways to parity:

    A clear strategy must be in place.

    Businesses must have specific DE&I goals, and they must regularly measure success. 

  • Our three pathways to parity:

    How we work has a real impact.

    Our research reveals a move back towards the office, yet businesses that offer greater flexibility have a higher percentage of senior management roles held by women. 

Women in business

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Download our full Women in Business report to discover more of our insights