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Number of women in senior business roles growing very slowly

Number of NZ senior business roles held by women growing at a glacial pace

On International Women’s Day, a new report based on Grant Thornton’s annual survey of 5,500 businesses in 36 economies reveals the global proportion of senior business roles held by women has hit a high of 25%.

Women in Business: New perspectives on risk and reward, reveals that while there is some progress, it remains slow. The global figure for 2017 is an increase of just one percent from 2016, and the proportion has only improved six percent since the research began in 2004.

By comparison, in New Zealand, 20% of senior roles are held by women in 2017, also up 1% from the last two years, but still down 11% from where we were in 2004. This keeps us at 28th place out of 36 countries surveyed.

The percentage of businesses globally with no women in senior management has also risen, from 33% in 2016 to 34% in 2017. In New Zealand, 37% of businesses have no women in senior management, down from 42% last year – one of the first positive changes since 2012. Having said that, New Zealand shouldn’t be proud of its placing in the “bottom 10 pack”.

Stacey Davies, Partner, Privately Held Business at Grant Thornton New Zealand, says: “This year, global businesses have reached a milestone, with a quarter of senior roles held by women for the first time. But this is a marginal improvement and we’re still only halfway there.

“In New Zealand, we are still lagging well behind. Despite evidence linking diversity and improved business performance, the dial is shifting at a painfully slow rate. This is a real concern for business growth as it suggests we aren’t maximising the potential out there.

“The reasons for this lack of progress are so varied, and they depend on the culture of individual businesses and the broader culture of the country or region in which they sit. However, this year we encountered a concerning sense that the issue has plateaued, as companies perhaps assume the diversity challenge has been dealt with. The evidence tells us this is not the case.

“Companies today need to be more productive, more innovative and in many ways more open if they are to grow. Diversity will be key to their success. Those that remain closed are putting themselves at risk of not tapping in to their full potential, and losing access to diversity of thinking.”

Grant Thornton’s report also highlights the importance of gender diversity in senior teams tasked with managing risk.

The report emphasises the increase in businesses without gender diversity in senior management comes at a time when uncertainty is dominating the business agenda. It explores the role of gender when it comes to spotting and managing risks, by either seizing the opportunity or managing the threat that risk can bring.

Grant Thornton’s findings show that men and women perceive and respond to risk in different ways, contrasting in how they balance speed and decisiveness with careful consideration. Brought together, these strengths facilitate effective risk strategies for the sustainable growth of dynamic businesses.

Davies says: “Our research challenges the assumption that women are risk adverse and slow to act; men may be more inclined to jump to a yes or no decision, which facilitates action. But by the same measure, men can act too quickly because they feel something has to happen fast. However women will not rush to label a situation as a risk and mitigate it, but will consider the context fully and respond in ways that recognise the wider environment.

These differences can be a strength for companies. The international business environment has become more volatile, and the ability to manage uncertainty is becoming more important. Diversity of thinking at the senior level gives management teams a wider peripheral vision of what constitutes a risk, and provides a more balanced approach for reacting to it, either as an opportunity or a threat. Gender diversity in firms’ decision-making teams could ultimately be the difference between reaping success or failure.”

The full report Women in Business 2017: New perspectives on risk and reward will be available on from 8 March

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