‘Progress paradox’ found as 69% of industry leaders believe gender parity is in reach despite little headway

Monday 6 June 2016

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  • Only 13% of leaders expect a substantial increase in gender diversity in five years’ time
  • Less than 20% of companies have structured programs to develop women
  • Survey results show disconnect between male and female perception of problem

The majority (69%) of industry leaders believe they will achieve gender parity on their board within the next 25 years despite little progress being made within their organisations, according to EY’s report Navigating disruption without gender diversity? Think again. These results are in stark contrast to the World Economic Forum’s broader prediction of 117 years to gender parity across the workforce.

A survey of 350 C-suite executives from the top 200 companies in seven industries across 51 countries revealed only 13% expect a significant increase to the number of women in leadership roles in the next five years. Banking and capital markets was the only industry to surpass the cross-sector average with 27% expecting a substantial increase in the number of women in leadership. At the opposite end of the spectrum, only 6% of insurance respondents anticipate this change.

Trent van Veen, EY’s Australian Diversified Business Leader says achieving gender diversity is a business imperative.

"Disruption is here and it’s presenting incredible opportunities and serious challenges across every industry,” Mr van Veen says.

“There are proven, direct links between a company’s gender diversity and its business performance. Yet our research shows the biggest companies across seven major industries are far from realising the benefits of gender diversity. Businesses need to put gender parity on the agenda – and start today.”

Only 44% of organisations surveyed have metrics in place to track women as they move along their career path. While more than half of respondents (55%) recognise the need to do more to attract, retain and promote women to build the pipeline of future leaders, only 18% have structured programs to identify and develop women in their organisations.

Banking and capital markets, once again, is the clear leader in addressing gender parity with 33% citing structured programs to advance women in the workplace, followed by automotive with 22%. Meanwhile, insurance performs the lowest with only 8% citing formal programs. 
Of companies with structured programs in place to advance women’s careers, 44% are in EMEA, compared to 28% in the Americas and Asia-Pacific. 

“The talent is there and more needs to be done to ensure female professionals make it to the top: more structured programs, more measurement and more reporting. Companies should ask their female employees what support, programs and policies they would like to see in the workplace. This approach is especially important given our research shows us that men and women see the gender diversity problem in entirely different ways.”

Forty-three percent of men cited a shortage of female candidates as the top obstacle to gender parity, compared to just 7% of women. Meanwhile, female respondents identified an unsupportive culture (28%), organisational bias (28%) and the conflicts of raising a family (24%) as their key obstacles.

“To support and advance women into top leadership, this issue must be understood at all levels of the organisation. If women don’t get the right opportunities and support at the beginning and middle of their careers, their chances of making it into top roles are even slimmer. It’s about identifying high-potential female talent, creating formal and informal programs to sponsor and provide the right opportunities, and to put measurement systems in place to record progress,” Mr van Veen says.

Men and women do agree, however, on the importance of creating a supportive corporate culture, with 59% of men and 40% of women listing it as a primary enabler of women’s careers. Mentoring from senior leaders and strong female role models were also cited as top enablers.

“There is a widespread reality disconnect across industries. Companies believe they are making progress toward their gender diversity goals, but not actively planning to increase their female leaders in the near future. It’s time for each of us to think critically about how we’re contributing to the solution and not perpetuating the problem. Gender parity won’t be achieved without deliberate action.” 

For more information, visit ey.com/womeninindustry and access individual industry results for Automotive; Consumer Products and Retail; Financial Services (Banking and Capital Markets and Insurance); Life Sciences; Oil and Gas and Power and Utilities.

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Notes to Editors

About EY

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This news release has been issued by Ernst & Young Australia, a member firm of Ernst & Young Global Limited.

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About the report

EY’s Navigating disruption without gender diversity? Think again. is based on the results of interviews with 350 C-suite leaders (50% men and 50% women) from 51 countries.

This cross-sector report is part of a wider sector program on women in industry. This program also includes reports on gender diversity within seven industries: automotive; consumer products and retail; financial services (banking and capital markets, and insurance); life sciences; oil and gas; and power and utilities.

For more details on the wider program, please visit ey.com/womeninindustry.