Number of women in senior management falls in Canada, rises in Europe: Survey

Best represented in finance, HR
||Last Updated: 03/15/2012

The proportion of women holding senior management roles in Canada has declined from 28 per cent in 2011 to 25 per cent this year, while in Europe, the number is steadily increasing, according to research from Grant Thornton.

On a global basis, 21 per cent of senior management roles are held by women — barely higher than the level in 2004. In Canada and around the world, only one-tenth of businesses has a female CEO and 34 per cent of businesses said their company had no women in senior management at all, found the survey of 6,000 businesses across the globe.

Almost one-quarter (22 per cent) of senior management positions in businesses surveyed in Latin America are held by women, down from 28 per cent in 2009. Similar falls have been recorded in the Asia Pacific economies (25 per cent in 2009 down to 19 per cent in 2012), South East Asia (36 per cent in 2009 down to 32 per cent in 2012) and the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) economies (30 per cent in 2009 down to 26 per cent in 2012).

In the United States, the number rose slightly over the past two years to 17 per cent. Despite rising unemployment, the proportion of women in senior management in Europe has continued to rise steadily from 17 per cent in 2004 to 20 per cent in 2009 to 24 per cent in 2012, catching up with peers in emerging markets.

Of those in senior management, women are best represented in finance and human resources positions. In terms of finance, 13 per cent of businesses have female CFOs and a further 13 per cent of businesses employ women in other senior finance roles such as corporate controller, found the Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR).

One factor influencing the proportion of women in senior management is the number of females who are economically active — in other words, how many women are in the workforce. Female economic activity rates are fairly mixed but in Canada, the proportion of female adults in the labour force is 63 per cent — the highest of any G7 country — even though only 25 per cent of senior management positions are held by women, found Grant Thornton.

"It's encouraging to see that Canada remains in the top half of the country rankings but we're still not seeing significant change over time. Getting more women into senior management positions has been high on the political agenda for quite some time in Europe, where governments have been vocal about addressing the imbalance with positive results. The slow pace of growth in Canada is concerning if Canadian companies — and our economy — are to continue to grow," said Phil Noble, executive partner and CEO at Grant Thornton in Canada.

Governments and business leaders need to start working now to address this decline, he said.

"The last thing we want to see is a race to mediocrity where the proportion of women in senior roles stagnates for a number of years. There needs to be a public discussion now about the policies and practices that will enable and encourage women to continue to progress in the workplace."

Biggest winners and losers

Of the 40 economies surveyed, businesses in Russia employ the most women in senior management (46 per cent), ahead of Botswana, Thailand and the Philippines (all 39 per cent), whilst Italy ranks highest in Europe (36 per cent).

At the bottom of the table is Japan, where only 5 per cent of senior management positions are filled by women, below Germany (13 per cent), India (14 per cent) and Denmark (15 per cent).

Countries with the biggest increase over the past 12 months include Turkey (25 per cent to 31 per cent), and the United Arab Emirates (eight per cent to 15 per cent), results that suggest that the wave of economic liberalization in the Middle East as a result of the Arab Spring could have boosted the chances of women in the region reaching the top, said Grant Thornton.

Australia emerges as the country with the highest proportion of female CEOs, with three-tenths of businesses led by women, just ahead of Thailand (29 per cent), Italy (24 per cent) and Argentina (23 per cent).

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