• Women in business 2015 results

Annual business diversity tracker finds stagnation

Ahead of International Women’s Day this Sunday, an annual survey from Grant Thornton reveals that the proportion of business leadership roles held by women in Asia Pacific has fallen below the global average. While the situation in developed economies has broadly stagnated over the past decade, there has been a marked decrease in emerging markets, potentially driven by rapid urbanisation according to the report released today - Women in business: the path to leadership.

The proportion of senior roles held by women in Asia Pacific has dropped to 20%, below both the global average (22%) and the long-run average for the region (24%). Amongst developed nations in the region, Japan (8%), which still sits bottom of the global rankings, with Singapore (23%) and Australia (22%) shows little deviation over the past decade. New Zealand dropped to 19% this year, down from a long-run average of 28%.

Much more fluctuation is evident in emerging nations, with China dropping to 25%, down from an average of 32% across the past decade, Thailand to 27% (from 37%), Malaysia to 22% (from 27%) and Indonesia to 20% (from 31%). India sits third bottom of the global rankings (15%).

Julaporn Namchaisiri, Managing Director of Corporate Finance Services at Grant Thornton in Thailand said, “Emerging Asia Pacific economies have historically benefitted from cheap childcare infrastructure in the form of relatives living nearby, allowing women to go out to work. However, mass urbanisation is starting to erode these support structures as well as raise aspirations and increase job opportunities for women, meaning that many are now choosing to have children later in life, if at all.

“Japan and India may be at very different stages of their development but they share certain cultural features, such as being strong hierarchical and patriarchal societies, which prevents women from reaching the upper echelons of the business world.”

Julaporn continued, “Specifically with regards to Thailand, recently the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) in Thailand released a report showing that in 2040, the total workforce will drop to 35.2 million from the current 39 to 40 million. As the total workforce starts to decline more of the younger members of extended familial groups, which have traditionally been supporting families, need to work. At the same time, Thai people are getting older. The same report indicated that the number of people in Thailand aged over 60 years old will rocket from 6.4 million now (9% of the population) to 20.5 million in 2040 (32% of the population). This is an astonishing 564,000 more every year or 1,545 people every single day.”

“One disturbing result of these factors is an increasing trend for senior women in Thailand to seek early retirement. This is to look after members of their family, especially ageing parents, and because they increasingly have the means to do so. However, the net effect is a reduction in women in more senior positions creating a “brain drain” of experienced and seasoned executives. This trend will only continue in Thailand.”

Globally, 22% of senior roles held by women is slightly up from 2004 (19%) but down from 24% last year, highlighting broad stagnation. Japan and India are joined at the bottom of the rankings by Germany (14%). There have been pockets of improvement, however, with 26% of senior roles in the EU now occupied by women – an all-time high. This has been driven by France (33%), Sweden (28%) and Greece (27%). At the same time though the number in Latin America has fallen to 18% – an all-time low.

Julaporn added, “We’ve heard businesses talk the talk on gender equality for decades now, but still too few are walking the walk. Aside from the moral issue of ensuring equal opportunity for all, a more representative blend of women and men in senor roles just makes good business sense. If an economy is only using half its most talented people then it immediately cuts its growth potential.

“This presents real challenges not just for businesses but for governments, society and women too. Society must adjust to changes in the way we live and work; for example, the stigmatisation of men who choose to stay at home for family reasons must end. Governments can support this by facilitating shared parental leave as well as building the infrastructure to allow women to thrive in the workforce. This could, for example, include mandating quotas for women on boards,” Julaporn concluded.