Foreword

Grant Thornton’s International Business Report (IBR) has been casting a light on the issue of gender diversity in senior management at mid-market 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 midmarket 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.1

Our research suggests that mid-market 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, more women now hold the most senior positions than ever before – 28% of mid-market businesses now have a female chief executive officer (CEO) or managing director (MD), up from 15% in 2019. 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.

Secondly, external pressures around Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) factors demand the creation of new strategies, including a determined push towards more women in senior leadership. The establishment of global ESG standards and regulation is putting pressure on firms to form diverse leadership teams. Struggle to demonstrate diversity and a company may struggle to raise capital.2

Perhaps the most significant boost to achieving gender parity could come from a continued commitment from businesses to provide flexible working. This year’s IBR research shows that businesses which offer hybrid, flexible or home working outperform when it comes to women in senior management.

The more flexible the workplace, the more we see women getting into senior leadership. While some C-suite voices at this year’s WEF event in Davos called for the need to return to the office, caution is needed. Office-based businesses have the lowest percentage of women in senior management.3

Flexible working is not without its challenges. Organisations must ensure they have a culture which supports and facilitates flexible working. The risk is businesses slide back into pre-pandemic habits – an intentional commitment to flexible working could help avoid this.

Sinead Donovan comments on the findings outlined in this year's Grant Thornton Women in Business report.

“It’s hugely positive to see that Irish businesses are actively placing value on diversity and inclusion not just amongst their staff but also amongst their leadership teams. 10% is a significant yearly increase, especially when compared to the picture globally, where progress has unfortunately been much slower. 

While this is a positive step for Ireland, it's clear there is still a lot of work to be done in order to narrow the playing field between men and women even further. Research shows that greater diversity in the workplace doesn’t just benefit the individuals, it also benefits business.

At Grant Thornton we are constantly looking for ways to do business better and having a diverse workforce where every person is awarded equal opportunity regardless of their gender is one important way of doing that.

In Ireland, Venture Capital or private equity houses now insist on diversity in terms of board make-up. We are also seeing increasing pressure from clients and investors, which will push mid-market businesses to introduce measures that increase the percentage of female senior managers. I expect this will be the case across the European Union and North America, given the particular focus on ESG reporting in these regions.” 

Sinead Donovan, Grant Thornton Ireland Chairperson

Women in Business 2023

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

1 www.weforum.org - It will take another 136 years to close the global gender gap, 12 April 2021
2 msci.com - ESG and climate risks and opportunities
3 www.thetimes.co.uk - Working from home is under threat — from employers