Women in senior leadership positions pass 30 per cent mark despite global pandemic

March 08, 2021 | 14:48
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The number of women holding senior leadership positions in midmarket businesses globally has hit 31 per cent, despite the COVID-19 pandemic affecting economies around the world, according to Grant Thornton’s annual Women in Business report.
women in senior leadership positions pass 30 per cent mark despite global pandemic
Women have reached a major milestone in senior leadership roles

Nguyen Thi Vinh Ha, deputy general director, country head of Advisory Services at Grant Thornton Vietnam said, “Passing the 30 per cent of women in senior roles globally is an important milestone for businesses, but is not the end goal. Those businesses that want to reap the benefits of a better gender balance must continue to take action to enable women to realise their ambitions.”

In fact, Vietnam exceeded the global average with 39 per cent and ranked third amongst the 29 countries surveyed, behind the Philippines and South Africa (up 6 per cent over 2020), on a par with Brazil and India and ranked second in the Asia-Pacific behind the Philippines with 48 per cent.

Seeing the proportion of women leaders rise to 31 per cent is encouraging, given the global figure was stubbornly stuck at 29 per cent for the previous two years (2019 and 2020). It also passes the important 30 per cent threshold, which research shows is the minimum representation needed to change decision-making processes. All regions surveyed except for the Asia-Pacific (28 per cent) have now surpassed the crucial 30 per cent milestone.

Another encouraging finding is the types of leadership roles women are occupying. Grant Thornton International’s research reveals higher numbers of women across operational C-suite roles compared to last year, with the proportion of female CEOs up 6 percentage points (pp) to 26 per cent, female CFOs also up 6pp to 36 per cent, and female COOs up 4pp to 22 per cent. The proportion of women in more traditional senior HR roles was down slightly at 38 per cent (-2pp against 2020), and has trended downwards since 2019.

The most popular position for women in Vietnam in 2021 was CFO at 60 per cent (up from 32 per cent in 2020), putting Vietnam No.1 in the Asia-Pacific. The position of human resources director ranked second with 59 per cent, which was also a very common position in the rest of the Asia-Pacific. Vietnam made significant strides in the number of women holding the position of CEO with an increase from 7 to 20 per cent in 2021 (ranking seventh in the Asia-Pacific).

Additionally, over two-thirds (69 per cent) of respondents agree that in their organisations, new working practices as a result of COVID-19 will benefit women’s career trajectories in the long-term, despite potentially hindering factors which may be down to the flexibility that remote working offers. The percentage of businesses agreeing with this statement in Vietnam was above the global average, with a majority of 83 per cent of respondents in agreement.

While the number of women in leadership roles has grown, questions remain over the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women, particularly working mothers. UN data shows that before the pandemic, women did three times as much unpaid housework as men, and mounting evidence indicates that COVID-19 is only increasing this disparity – as well as adding the extra responsibilities of childcare and homeschooling while schools are closed.

Valerie Teo, deputy general director, Tax Partner at Grant Thornton Vietnam said that, “Breaking the 30 per cent barrier certainly does represent progress – having grown from 19 per cent 17 years ago when we first started tracking this – but these gains can easily be lost. Reassuringly, 92 per cent of businesses globally say they are taking action to ensure the engagement and inclusion of their employees against the negative backdrop of the pandemic and with the normalisation of remote working, employers are becoming ever more flexible about how, where, and when employees do their job."

“Now more than ever, businesses need to stay focused on what is enabling women to progress to leadership positions, so that women move forward rather than back as a result of the global pandemic.”

By Thanh Van

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