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Global survey reveals improvement in gender diversity in leadership in APAC, as businesses in emerging economies are adaptable and more open to creativity

  • 71% of businesses in APAC with at least one woman in senior management

  • Proportion of senior business roles held by women in APAC slightly decreases from 25% in 2017 to 23% in 2018

  • In China, percentage of businesses with no women in senior management drops from 23% in 2017 to 12% in 2018

  • Globally, 75% of businesses with at least one woman in the senior management team in 2018, up by 9 percentage points year on year

Published to coincide with International Women’s Day 2018, the latest Grant Thornton annual research reveals that countries across APAC region have made progress on gender diversity in leadership over the last year. The research, surveying 4,995 businesses in 35 countries, finds that percentage of businesses with at least one woman in senior management in APAC has increased from 65% in 2017 to 71% in 2018.

As emerging economies are in a state of dynamic change, businesses in the developing countries in APAC also demonstrate higher adaptability and openness to innovation and creativity.

However, the proportion of senior business roles held by women in APAC has slightly decreased by 2 percentage points to 23% in 2018, while significant variation was seen within the region:

For example, the percentage of senior roles held by women in India increased from 17% to 20%, extending a consistent improvement year on year from 14% in 2014, while women in Japan remain under-represented in senior teams with only 5% of senior roles held by women.

In mainland China, percentage of senior roles held by women remained stable at 31% in 2018, and only 12% of businesses, with no women in senior management, down 11 percentage points from last year.

The top three Asian countries with the highest proportion of women in the high-level corporate positions are Philippines (47%), Indonesia (43%) and Thailand (42%), whereas Japan (5%), Australia (15%) and India (20%) are at the bottom of the ranking.

Mabel Chan, deputy managing partner at Grant Thornton Hong Kong said: “We are pleased to see that more businesses in APAC now have at least one woman on the senior management team, however, the proportion of senior roles held by women has also slightly decreased this year, which takes one step forward and one step back. We believe, to make real progress in gender balance, we need to move beyond policy and focus on the vital role leadership and culture.”

Grant Thornton’s data shows that globally more businesses (75% in 2018 v 66% in 2017) now have at least one woman on the senior management team, which has primarily been driven by emerging economies such as Africa (89%) and Eastern Europe (87%). Emerging economies also continue to see the highest proportion of women in senior roles, including Eastern Europe (36%), Latin America (30%) and Africa (30%).

In terms of improvement, Latin America has seen the greatest increase, with the number of businesses with at least one woman on the senior management team rising from 52% in 2017 to 65% in 2018. At the same time, there is also a significant increase in developed regions such as North America (from 69% to 81%) and the European Union (from 64% to 73%).

Nevertheless, a huge gap still exists between the developing and the developed regions. The major economies of the G7 have remained static at 21% of senior roles held by women. Developed APAC sits at the bottom of the table with just 8% of senior roles held by women and 60% of businesses with no women in senior management, worsening than that of last year on both measures.

Mabel Chan commented: “Despite the overall positive result, it is disappointing that the importance of women in senior management is being spread so thinly. Leaders need to value the benefit of diversity and listen a wide range of voices. While gender diversity in leadership and commercial success are correlated, the current volatility in the global economy and ongoing technological innovation and disruption makes the issue more important than ever.”

In investigation of the role of both business and government policies in bringing about the change, Grant Thornton’s report finds that gender equality policies are abundant and widespread in the world, with 81% of businesses adopting equal pay for men and women performing the same roles, and 71% implementing non-discrimination policies for recruitment.

However, there appears to be no clear correlation between which, and how many, policies businesses have in place and the gender diversity of their senior management teams. No single policy seems to drive gender diversity, and the regions in which businesses have most policies in place – Africa, the EU and North America – demonstrate very different levels of gender diversity in business leadership. This is also true for the APAC region – for example, while equal pay for men and women performing the same roles and non-discrimination policies for recruitment are the most commonly adopted equality policies and practices for businesses in Philippines and Japan, their levels of gender diversity vary significantly.

Mabel Chan concluded: “It’s clear that simply introducing policies is not enough to drive real progress on gender diversity. Businesses who are succeeding are those whose policies and practices are rooted in a genuine conviction of the benefit of diversity. Leaders must champion the cause and create inclusive cultures in which a wide range of voices are listened to and where every individual can flourish if we are ever to see real change. Leaders are the only ones who can really press for progress.”

Please click to read Women in Business 2018: beyond policy to progress.

Content provided by Grant Thornton Hong Kong Limited
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