Women in Business 2023

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Grant Thornton’s International Business Report (IBR) has been casting a light on the issue of gender diversity in senior management at medium-sized businesses for 19 years, exposing barriers and identifying facilitators of change.

While progress on the overall number of women in senior leadership continues, this year’s research shows it is concerningly slow. On a global level, 32.4% of senior management positions in medium-sized businesses are now held by women, an increase of just half a percentage point (pp) since 2022 and only 13pp since our research was first undertaken in 2004. At this rate, just 34% of senior leadership positions will be held by women in 2025.

According to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap report, it will take another 132 years to address the global gender gap. Our research suggests that medium-sized businesses must push for parity, and quickly. Intentional action from businesses is needed to accelerate progress. Our research identifies a number of factors which could support this acceleration.

Firstly, globally more women now hold the most senior positions than ever before – 28% of medium-sized businesses now have a female chief executive officer (CEO) or managing director (MD), up from 15% in 2019. In South Africa, the percentage of female CEOs increased from 11% in 2019 to 30% in 2022.

This trend is likely to lead to new diversity strategies, focused on increasing diversity
at a senior management level and taking more businesses towards gender parity.

Graph : Summary of positions that women in senior management held in 2022 in South African medium-sized businesses

At SNG Grant Thornton, we firmly believe that increasing diversity, at a senior level and beyond, is the responsible thing to do and the right thing to do commercially, being a proven driver of performance. To take the next step, and push for parity we must learn from our experiences, avoid the pitfalls which could derail progress and ensure there is long-term commitment to the new ways of working. Our 2023 Women in Business report provides key insights into why and how medium-sized businesses can do this.