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Women in Business

2021 Women in Business Report

A window of opportunity

For 17 years, Grant Thornton has been tracking the global progress of women in senior management. In the last 12 months, unprecedented events have had an unforeseen and unparalleled impact on that progress.  This report outlines the position of women in senior management around the world as we witness the emergence of a more diverse and inclusive leadership model, and highlights the actions leaders need to take in order to create a step change in the proportion of high-level roles held by women.

2021 Women in Business Report Key Findings

We’ve surpassed a critical threshold of women in senior leadership roles globally.

Nine in ten companies have at least one woman on their leadership team. The proportion of senior leadership roles held by women is 33% in North America and 36% within Canada. This finally surpasses the 30% threshold, which is predicted to be a catalyst for greater gender diversity in senior management and to engender transformational change.

There’s a shift in the types of senior roles women are fulfilling.

While senior women traditionally occupied more people-focused roles like HR director, today we’re seeing more and more women in more operational/strategic leadership roles. The percentage of women CEOs, for example, is up from 15% in 2019 to 26% in 2021 (while the percentage of women HR Directors is down to 38% in 2021 from 43% in 2019).

In Canada, 36% of senior management positions are held by women in 2021.

In Canada, 36% of senior management positions are held by women in 2021, up from 32% in 2020, 28% in 2019, 25% in 2018—that’s five percentage points higher than the global average. Out of 29 countries surveyed, Canada ranked 10th, ahead of the UK, France, Australia, the US and Sweden.

More businesses are taking deliberate actions to promote gender parity in senior management.

Top actions being taken are ensuring equal access to developmental work opportunities (39%, up from 34% in 2020), creating an inclusive culture (36%, up from 34% in 2020), and providing mentoring and coaching (32%, up from 26% in 2020). Interestingly, the percentage of companies that are formalizing and/or enabling flexible working has held steady since last year at 31%, perhaps because coronavirus lockdowns enforced widespread remote work for everyone so respondents didn’t see it as a specifically gender-influenced practice. The percentage of companies taking no action to improve gender balance has fallen from 25% in 2019 to 18% in 2021.

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