Grant Thornton: U.S. businesses show little progress in advancing women during past decade

Research indicates percentage of women in senior positions in U.S. virtually unchanged since 2004, less than global average.

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The number of women in senior management roles in the United States has increased by just 1% during the past 10 years, according to new research from the Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR), a survey of more than 5,400 business leaders in 36 economies.

Only 21% of senior business roles in the United States are occupied by women, a decrease from the previous year (22%) and an increase of just 1% from 2004. The research also reveals that of the U.S. women in senior management roles, just 6% are chief executive officers. The majority of female senior business leaders serve in a human resources capacity (44%), as corporate controller (20%) or as chief marketing officer (19%).

“The lack of significant progress during the past decade for U.S. women in senior management is disappointing,” said Erica O’Malley, Grant Thornton LLP’s national managing partner of Diversity & Inclusion. “Companies have been talking the talk on gender equality for decades, but still too few are walking the walk. U.S. businesses must take steps now to eradicate gender bias and shift expectations around the role of women, which have contributed to success in other economies when it comes to advancing women.”

Globally, 22% of senior roles are held by women — a 3% increase from 2004, but down from 24% last year, indicating broad stagnation. Japan remains at the bottom of the list with just 8% of senior roles held by women, followed by Germany (14%) and India and Brazil (15%). There have been pockets of improvement, however, with an all-time high of 26% of senior roles in the European Union now occupied by women. At the same time, the number in Latin America has fallen to 18% — an all-time low.

Russia has the highest percentage of women in senior business roles in the world at 40%. The next top five countries on the list are all in Eastern Europe: Georgia (38%), Poland (37%), Latvia (36%), Estonia (35%) and Lithuania (33%).

Grant Thornton’s research also reveals increasing support among business leaders for the introduction of gender quotas. In the United States, more than half (56%) of both male and female senior managers now support quotas to get women on the boards of large listed companies, a significant increase from 30% in 2014. Globally, 47% of business leaders support implementing quotas.

Across industries, the number of women in senior management roles worldwide has decreased or stagnated since 2013. Notably, the clean technology sector saw a 13% drop in the number of female senior leaders in just two years, from 33% in 2013 to 20% in 2015. In the manufacturing sector, the percentage of women in senior management dropped slightly from 20% in 2013 to 19% in 2015.

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