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Women in Business report: 33.5% of top management worldwide are women

Upward trend continues slowly, number of female CEOs even decreases. Reversing flexible working and lack of diversity strategy are slowing the process. 

Grant Thornton Belgium, a consulting firm with expertise in audit, accountancy, tax & legal and advisory, today publishes the results of the 20th edition of the Women in Business report. This global survey in 28 countries shows that today 33.5% of top positions in companies worldwide are held by a woman; 1.1% more than last year. In the EU, they recorded an increase to 35%. In 2020, this was still 30%. 93% of medium-sized companies worldwide have at least 1 woman in a senior management position. At this rate, we will not reach parity until 2053, with 50% of senior management roles filled by women.

The balance sheet of twenty years of research

33.5% of all senior management positions worldwide are held by women today, compared to 32% last year and 31% in 2021. At the start of the measurements in 2004, this was 19.4%. In the European Union, companies are clocking in at 35% this year, a slight increase after several years of stagnation (33% in 2023 and 2022, and 34% in 2021).

93% of all medium-sized companies worldwide have at least one woman in senior management, compared to 91% last year and 66% in 2012 (when this aspect was first surveyed). In the European Union, 91% of all medium-sized companies have at least one woman in senior management.

The female presence remains strongest in operational management positions, such as HR Director (46%), Chief Financial Officer (39%) or Chief Marketing Officer (28%). Globally, 19% of companies surveyed have a female CEO, up from 28% last year.

Steps taken, a long way to go

Of the 28 countries participating in the survey today, 18 have joined since the first edition in 2004. In those 18 countries, progress has been made in terms of female leadership. Four of them have even seen an increase of 20 percentage points or more: Ireland (20 percentage points), Turkey (21 percentage points), India (22 percentage points) and Spain (26 percentage points).

All this information was recorded in the Grant Thornton's Women in Business report. This is one of the largest surveys worldwide on gender equality in senior management, with 10,000 respondents from medium-sized companies in 28 countries.

Leslie Van den Branden, Managing Partner at Grant Thornton Belgium, evaluates the situation:

"Over 20 years, a lot has changed in terms of gender inclusion and diversity. But it is clear that we now need to show even more determination and highlight the benefits still further. Diversity in the broad sense is beneficial for companies in all respects. It encourages different ways of thinking, leads to better results and decisions and creates new growth opportunities."

Back to the office

Three factors that positively correlate with female leadership were also examined:

  • flexible working arrangements
  • a separate diversity and inclusion policy
  • that is followed up by the right (combination of) people.

Grant Thornton’s research found that companies with flexible or hybrid work models have the highest level of women in senior leadership positions. The effect of the Covid crisis seems to have run its course in this respect. What’s more, a reverse movement is underway worldwide. 47% of companies are going back to an office-based working model (11% more than in the previous edition). Hybrid (with a fixed ratio between office and home work) and flexible work (where the employee chooses that mix) are losing ground proportionately. The number of companies using a hybrid model fell from 53% to 45%, while the number of flexible regimes fell from 8% to 5%.

"Thanks to our open and supportive culture and our flexible way of working, we offer opportunities to all employees,' Van den Branden adds. "This gives everyone the opportunity to build the career path that makes them happy, at their own pace."

Greater equality through targeted policy

In addition, the importance of an inclusion strategy was also confirmed. Companies with a separate diversity and inclusion policy, but without an ESG (Environmental, Social & Governance) strategy, have the highest average percentage of senior management positions held by women (38%), closely followed by companies that have both an ESG and a diversity strategy.

This lower score implies that an ESG strategy alone is not enough. If a diversity message is incorporated into an ESG strategy, the importance of that message may be diluted. It is very important that the impact of that policy is objectively measured within the company.

It is not really important which measure of diversity is used (well-being, wage equality, women in management positions, etc.). The big difference lies in the fact that measurements are actually taken. Companies that do not make any measurements remain on average at 25% of the higher management positions held by women. As soon as one or more aspects are measured, this rises to 35% or more.

Also, the person in charge and responsible for that diversity policy is crucial for increasing the percentage of women in senior management. When a CEO (m/f/x) works together with a female senior manager, we see that 38% of senior positions are held by women. The best combination is when a Chief Information Officer is put in charge of diversity and inclusion, with a female senior manager as the right hand. Then the percentage of women in senior management rises to 39%.


The data for the Women in Business report comes from Grant Thornton's International Business Report (IBR) – a survey of both listed and unlisted medium-sized companies. This IBR, started in 1992, now provides insight into the views and expectations of about 10,000 companies in 28 countries. The data for this press release comes from interviews conducted from October to November last year with CEOs, managing directors, chairpersons or other senior executives from all sectors.

Grant Thornton Women In Business report 2024

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