Globally, about three in 10 (32.4%) senior management positions are now held by women. Looking at HR director roles, about 40% comprise women, up slightly from 2022's figure (39%).
About 40% of senior management positions in Malaysia are currently held by women – an unchanged record from 2022, new research has found.
According to Grant Thornton’s 2023 International Business Report (IBR), working models have had a "significant impact" on the number of women in senior management. In particular, it noted, 45% of businesses in Malaysia are now purely office-based; while 52% have a hybrid and flexible approach, and 3% are home-based.
"With close to half of businesses back to purely office-based, this impacts our progress to promote female leadership. Businesses that don’t have flexible working practices tend to be less attractive workplaces to senior women. With many businesses not embracing hybrid or flexible ways of working, women are dropping out of their current positions, considering part-time work or even starting their own ventures.
"A significant boost to the number of women in leadership roles will come from more businesses committing to flexible working and developing the right organisational culture to support it," shared Silvia Tan, Partner of Quality Management, Grant Thornton, in the research.
On a more positive note, the research further found that Malaysian businesses are placing focus on succession planning, in order to have more women take up senior leadership positions. These are being done through initiatives such as mentoring and coaching programmes, while nurturing individual working styles and needs.
What is the situation across the borders, in Singapore?
Over in neighbouring Singapore, the overall proportion of women in senior leadership roles rose "decisively", the research showcased. In specific, Singapore saw 39% of senior management roles being held by women in its 2023 report, up eight points from 32% recorded in 2022. It should be noted, however, that this figure was based on a three-year moving average, a simple average of the current year and the last two years' results.
The research zoomed into the findings for mid-market businesses, revealing that, similar to businesses in Malaysia, succession planning has been a point of focus in getting more women into senior leadership roles, including implementing programmes for wellbeing, mentoring, coaching, and leadership development.
In fact, the top measure to attract and retain a strong pipeline of future leaders in Singapore was to focus on implementing strong wellbeing training and support programmes (34%), it was noted.
How is the progress in the region and globally?
Looking at the findings globally, about three in 10 (32.4%) senior management positions are now held by women, a 0.5 percentage point (pp) increase from 2022, and 13pp increase since the research was first undertaken in 2004. While progress on the overall number of women in senior leadership continues, it’s "concerningly slow", the global report stated. It was added: "Without a greater level of intent from businesses, the percentage of senior management positions held by women will only reach 34% by 2025. Alarmingly, 9% of mid-market businesses globally still have no women in senior leadership."
Karitha Ericson, Global Leader – Network Capability and Culture, Grant Thornton International, observed: "The 30% target was held as a ‘tipping point’ which would trigger an acceleration toward more gender-balanced workplaces. Given the incremental change since mid-market businesses in our research reached 30%, it is clear we now need to inject greater determination to fully reap the benefits of greater diversity."
From a region-specific viewpoint, the overarching increase in women in these roles is underpinned by "some strong performances at a regional level." All regions surpassed the 30% figure for women in senior management for the first time, it was highlighted.
The regional breakdown is as follows:
- ASEAN experienced the biggest rise among the regions, increasing from 37% to reach 40%;
- Latin America saw an increase from 35% to 37%;
- The European Union’s performance remains "flat" at 33%;
- APAC’s two-percentage-point rise to 32% places it ahead of North America for the first time since 2018, and
- North America was the only region to experience a dip, from 33% to 31%.
Within APAC, India was identified as one of the key contributors to the increase in women holding leadership roles. This was mainly attributed to the country introducing new policies to boost diversity in the workplace in recent years. In 2020, for instance, a requirement was put in place that the largest 1,000 companies must have an independent female director.
At the same time, although The United Arab Emirates was not included in the regional figures, it currently has 27% of senior leadership positions held by women. "There is a growing sense of optimism on the ground that new regulations and changing cultural attitudes will accelerate progress," the research showed.
While progress is "slow", women are taking on broader leadership roles today
Despite only a slight increase in the percentage of women in senior leadership positions, the 2023 research highlighted a "significant broadening out" of the roles women hold. Taking a closer look, there are big increases in the percentage of women occupying chief executive officer (CEO)/managing director (MD) and chief information officer (CIO) positions. In 2019, just 15% of businesses had a woman CEO/MD. Now, that number is 28%, and the percentage of women in CIO positions rose from 16% to 23% over the same period.
Additionally, there are now more women holding the roles of chief operating officers (COOs) and chief financial officers (CFOs), recording 25% and 38% respectively.
As for HR director roles – according to the findings, 40% of these roles are now held by women, up from 39% in 2022 and 38% in 2021. Taking a regional comparison, this is how the percentage of women in HR director roles in APAC compared with its regional counterparts:
- APAC: 42%
- Africa: 51%
- Latin America: 48%
- ASEAN: 45%
- North America: 38%
- European Union: 33%
As for the other roles, the regional figures are:
- APAC: 43%
- ASEAN: 50%
- Africa: 49%
- Latin America: 42%
- North America: 33%
- European Union: 31%
- APAC: 21%
- North America: 39%
- Latin America: 33%
- ASEAN: 27%
- European Union: 24%
- Africa: 19%
- APAC: 22%
- Latin America: 34%
- Africa: 31%
- North America: 29%
- ASEAN: 27%
- European Union: 23%
- APAC: 27%
- Latin America: 29%
- Africa: 28%
- European Union: 24%
- North America: 23%
- ASEAN: 22%
- APAC: 27%
- North America: 24%
- Africa: 21%
- ASEAN: 21%
- Latin America: 17%
- European Union: 15%
The IBR involved more than 10,000 businesses across 28 economies, many of which were mid-market businesses.
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Image: Grant Thornton