SINGAPORE: While more companies here now have at least one woman holding a senior management role, improving gender diversity at the top remains a work in progress, according to a survey by global consultancy Grant Thornton on Thursday (Mar 8).
Released to mark the International Women’s Day, the annual report showed 78 per cent of local businesses having at least one woman in C-suite jobs, such as chief executive officers, managing directors or partners. This is an improvement from last year’s 64 per cent.
However, the proportion of the senior management team that is female was stagnant at 30 per cent, the survey showed.
This is largely in line with global trends, which saw three quarters of firms around the world having at least one female in top leadership, an increase from last year’s 66 per cent. But when it comes to the overall representation of senior roles held by women, there was a marginal decrease to 24 per cent from 25 per cent.
The global consultancy firm, which surveyed 4,995 businesses in 35 countries worldwide, described this as taking “one step forward but one step back on women in leadership”.
“While it’s hugely positive that women are in senior roles at more businesses, it’s disappointing that they are being spread so thinly,” said Grant Thornton’s global leader for network capabilities and sponsor of women in leadership Francesca Lagerberg.
“This suggests that businesses may be focused on ticking the ‘diversity’ box to avoid an all-male leadership team, rather than creating an inclusive culture.”
The annual report also showed that emerging economies continue to outperform in gender diversity in the corporate boardrooms, with Africa and Eastern Europe leading the way. This explains why Singapore is underperforming its fellow ASEAN counterparts, said Ms Lorraine Parkin, partner and head of tax services at Grant Thornton Singapore.
When it comes to having at least one woman in senior leadership, 84 per cent of companies across Southeast Asia fulfilled the criteria. However, Singapore is at the bottom of the ranking, falling behind Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand.
For the percentage of senior business roles held by females, Singapore is the second lowest among the ASEAN markets tracked, coming in yet again below the region’s average of 39 per cent.
Ms Parkin told Channel NewsAsia that emerging economies tend to demonstrate greater levels of gender diversity than developed regions.
“This may be because businesses in developed regions are operating with established structures and ingrained behaviours, while those in emerging economies can be more adaptable as the environment around them changes frequently,” she said in an emailed response.
Meanwhile, businesses back home said they are motivated to introduce gender equality policies primarily to enhance company performance (84 per cent), live up to organisational values (82 per cent), as well as attract and keep employees (72 per cent).
But they cited several barriers to introducing these policies, namely the cost of implementation (26 per cent), stereotypes about gender roles (26 per cent) and the complexity of translating good intentions into practice (24 per cent).
Ms Parkin noted that Singapore has been progressive in establishing the Diversity Action Committee (DAC) but suggested for more flexi-work arrangements to be considered even as local businesses rank highly on paid parental leave and subsidised childcare compared to the global average.
Overall, the annual report found that countries in which businesses have in place the most gender equality policies, such as equal pay and non-discrimination in recruitment, are not necessarily those that demonstrate the most gender diversity.
“It was clear that policy – whether led by business or driven by government – is not producing large scale change”, said Ms Lagerberg.
Adding that real change comes about when businesses have a genuine conviction of the benefit of diversity, she said: “We need to move beyond policy and focus on the vital role leadership and culture can play in creating real progress in gender balance.”
To increase female representation at the top, Grant Thornton’s report recommended businesses to make diversity and inclusion a core value of the company, as well as set goals to measure progress. Senior leadership will also need to demonstrate commitment to the case and lead from the top, it said.
It also suggested for companies to make diversity and inclusion goals part of the leadership team’s compensation packages, keep track of the benefits brought about by gender diversity and avoid tokenism.