Women in leadership positions:

Companies do not expect rapid improvement

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Only 13% of global firms expect a significant increase in the number of women in leadership roles over the next five years. Less than one fifth of firms that took part in EY’s global survey have a structured program to develop female employees. The survey also shows how differently men and women view the issue. Whereas men point to a lack of candidates, women criticize deficiencies in the corporate culture. EY is calling on companies to take action: gender parity at the executive level also helps manage the upcoming major economic upheavals successfully.

Zurich, 16 May 2016 − The majority (69%) of industry leaders believe that gender parity can be achieved on their boards within the next 25 years, despite the lack of progress they have achieved in this area. This is shown by the current research Navigating disruption without gender diversity? Think again. from the advisory firm EY. Managers’ views therefore diverge significantly from the World Economic Forum (WEF) prediction of 117 years to gender parity across the entire workforce.

The survey of 350 C-suite leaders from 200 leading firms in 7 industries across 51 countries revealed that only 13% expect a significant increase to the number of women in leadership roles over the next 5 years. Banking and Capital Markets was the only industry to surpass the cross-sector average, with 27% of respondents expecting a substantial increase in the number of women in leadership. At the other end of the spectrum, only 6% of survey respondents in the insurance industry expect such change.

Firms missing out on opportunities
“There is a proven, direct link between a firm’s gender diversity and its business performance. Achieving gender diversity is a business imperative. Yet our research shows the biggest companies across seven major industries are far from realizing the benefits of gender diversity. Businesses need to put gender parity on the agenda – starting today,” says Bruno Chiomento, CEO of EY Switzerland.

Not even half of the firms surveyed have the metrics in place to track women as they move along their career path. More than half of survey respondents (55%) say they must do more to attract, retain and promote women to build the pipeline of future leaders, but only 18% have structured programs to identify and develop talented women in their organizations.

Progress must be monitored
Promotion programs are more widespread than average (33%) in the banking industry, followed by the automotive industry (22%). The insurance industry is last with 8%. Of companies with structured programs in place to advance women’s careers, 44% were in the EMEA region and 28% in each of North and Latin America and Asia-Pacific.

“The talent is there, but more needs to be done to ensure female professionals make it to the top: flexibility and cultural changes must be prioritized. Progress should also be analyzed systematically, monitored and made transparent. Firms should ask women themselves about their needs. This is particularly important given our research shows that men and women perceive the problem in different ways,” explains Barbara Aeschlimann, HR manager at EY Switzerland.

Contradictory perceptions
Overall, 43% of men cited a shortage of suitable female candidates as the top obstacle to gender parity, compared to only 7% of women. Meanwhile, female respondents identified an unsupportive culture (28%), organizational bias (28%) and the conflicts of raising a family (24%) as their key obstacles. To support and advance women to top leadership, this issue must be understood at all levels of the organization.

“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 support them and providing the right career opportunities,” continues Barbara Aeschlimann.

Lack of measures
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.

Bruno Chiomento explains: “On many executive committees, there is a widespread reality disconnect. Companies believe they are making progress toward their gender diversity goals. However, they are not actively planning to increase their female leaders in the near future nor do they measure this. It’s time for each of us to think carefully about how we’re contributing to the solution and not perpetuating the problem.”

About the report
EY’s report Navigating disruption without gender diversity? Think again. is based on interviews with 350 managers at C-suite level (50% men and 50% women) from 51 countries. Seven interviews were carried out with employees of Swiss firms. This cross-industry report is part of a wider program about women in industry, which also includes reports on gender diversity in seven industries.

Further information and the report are available at www.ey.com/womeninindustry in the sections Automotive and Transportation, Consumer Products and Retail, Financial Services (Banking and Capital Markets, Insurance), Life Sciences, Oil and Gas and Power and Utilities.


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EY’s organization is represented in Switzerland by Ernst & Young Ltd, Basel, with ten offices across Switzerland, and in Liechtenstein by Ernst & Young AG, Vaduz. In this publication,
“EY” and “we” refer to Ernst & Young Ltd, Basel, a member firm of Ernst & Young Global Limited.