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Share of women executives falls in Canada, rises in U.S.

Monday, March 19, 2012  
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The proportion of women holding senior management roles in Canada has declined from 28 percent in 2011 to 25 percent this year, while in the United States, the number rose slightly over the past two years to 17 percent, according to new research by Grant Thornton.

On a global basis, 21 percent of senior management roles are held by women— barely higher than the level in 2004. Around the world, only one in 10 businesses has a female CEO, and 34 percent of businesses said their company had no women in senior management at all, according to Grant Thornton’s International Business Report, which surveyed 6,000 businesses globally between November 2011 and February 2012.

Australia has the highest proportion of female CEOs; three in 10 businesses are led by women, ahead of Thailand (29 percent), Italy (24 percent) and Argentina (23 percent). Botswana, Brazil and Japan (all 3 percent) perform worst on this measure, with the United Kingdom and the United States (both 6 percent) not far ahead.

Despite rising unemployment, the proportion of women in senior management inEuropehas continued to rise steadily from 17 percent in 2004 to 20 percent in 2009 to 24 percent in 2012, catching up with peers in emerging markets. However, women are losing ground in those emerging markets, where businesses have historically employed more females in senior roles. Just over one in five (22 percent) of senior management positions in businesses surveyed in Latin America are held by women, down from 28 percent in 2009. Similar falls have been recorded in the Asia Pacific economies (25 percent in 2009, down to 19 percent in 2012), South East Asia (36 percent in 2009, 32 percent in 2012) and the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) economies (30 percent in 2009, to 26 percent in 2012.)

Of those in senior management, globally women are best represented in finance and human resources positions. In terms of finance, 13 percent of businesses have female chief financial officers, and another 13 percent of businesses employ women in other senior finance roles such as corporate controller.

"Across Europe, getting more women into senior management positions has been high on the political agenda for quite some time,” said April Mackenzie, global head, governance and public policy, at Grant Thornton International. "Governments have been vocal about addressing the imbalance and as a result businesses have been under real scrutiny. This encouraging rise in senior women shows the effect this attention is starting to have.

"The steady drop-off we are seeing in the emerging markets is a real concern though. The worry is that we may be reaching the point where women are underrepresented in senior management the world over.”

The report did not uncover a strong correlation between the proportion of women in business and the availability of flexible working practices – such as working from home or variable hours. There are a myriad of cultural, economic and social barriers which prevent women from reaching the top jobs, but rapid urbanization, which has accompanied rapid economic growth in emerging markets, could help explain why the proportion of women in senior management is falling, the study concluded.

"The movement into cities has begun to break down traditional models of extended families,” McKenzie said. "The inbuilt childcare infrastructure, which allowed children to be raised by grandparents, enabled women to work full-time. This is being replaced by ‘Western-style’ nuclear families which rely on one parent looking after the children or the prospect of expensive childcare.”

Of the 40 economies surveyed, businesses in Russia employ the most women in senior management (46 percent), ahead of Botswana, Thailand and the Philippines (all 39 percent). Italy ranks highest in Europe (36 percent). At the bottom of the table is Japan, where only 5 percent of senior management positions are filled by women, below Germany (13 percent), India (14 percent) and Denmark (15 percent).

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