March of the Women in Asia Pacific

Eight in 10 firms in APAC countries have at least one woman in senior management

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By Pooja Singh


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There is ample research to show that gender diversity is perhaps the best thing for business. Given today's complex, volatile environment, organizations need to be innovative, and diversity and innovation have long been known to be directly related. It appears that businesses in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region realize this well.

According to Grant Thornton's latest "Women in business: Building a Blueprint For Action" report, 85 per cent of businesses in APAC countries have at least one woman in senior management, while at the same time, just 28 per cent of senior roles are held by women.

Targeted Approach

The report, which was focused on gender diversity at the workplace, was based on responses from 4,900 interviews and surveys conducted in November and December last year with chief executive officers (CEO), managing directors (MD), chairpersons, and other senior decision-makers from all industry sectors in mid-market businesses in 35 countries.

The findings showed that the highest recorded proportion of women at the senior-management level globally is 29 per cent, a five percentage point rise from the previous year. This suggests a "more active, targeted approach to improving the situation", says the report.

Nonetheless, this falls short of ensuring long-term gender parity. Businesses still need to take deliberate, ongoing action for sustainable change, says Francesca Lagerberg, Grant Thornton International's global leader (network capabilities). "Targeted initiatives kickstart activity, but where you see a difference is when they are rigorously followed through, and where there's real commitment from the senior leadership," says Lagerberg. "It filters through an organization so everybody knows: this is how we do things."

Regional Divide

When it comes to gender diversity, some regions are doing better than others and there are lessons to be learned from them. Eastern Europe, for instance, has the highest percentage of women in top roles, with 32 per cent of senior management in the region made up of females, compared with Latin America, the worst performing at just 25 per cent. Those failing to achieve significant movement in the middle ground are the European Union, APAC and North America, among others.

The report notes that over the last five years, the proportion of global businesses employing at least one woman in senior management has risen by 20 percentage points – 12 points in the last year alone. Globally, however, the proportion of women in senior roles is still lying short of the 30 per cent tipping point that is expected to open the gates to gender parity.

Women cite being held back by a lack of access to developmental work opportunities – the factor showing the biggest imbalance between the genders, says the report. "Restricted networking opportunities and caring responsibilities outside work are the next most likely hurdles for women to have overcome on their route to executive roles," it adds.

"Diversity is not a women's issue. Women get it. They live with it every day. Change happens when leaders take action. So I want to have a conversation with the men in the room. Embrace it and own it," says Greg Keith, chief executive officer of Grant Thornton Australia.

Pooja Singh

Former Features Editor, Entrepreneur Asia Pacific


A stickler for details, Pooja Singh likes telling people stories. She has previously worked with Mint-Hindustan Times, Down To Earth and Asian News International-Reuters. 

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