Women in industry

Navigating disruption without gender diversity?

Disruption and gender diversity are two of the biggest topics facing business leaders today. Both issues are critical to the future of every industry. And they are closely connected.

The best way to navigate disruption is to harness the power of diverse thinking by enabling people with different experiences, ideas and knowledge to come together in an inclusive culture. Gender diversity is a critical part of the equation. Not only this, gender diverse leadership is proven to increase the skills businesses need to navigate the disruptive trends transforming their industry.

Disruption is revolutionizing how businesses operate. To name a few of its forms:

  • Advances in digital
  • Big data analytics
  • Bots and artificial intelligence
  • Drones in commerce and agriculture
  • Internet of Things
  • Smart homes

The race to innovate has left many organizations desperately seeking new skills.

Overwhelming evidence demonstrates the business benefits of gender diversity. As highlights:

  • Researchers from MIT and Carnegie Mellon found teams that included women were more successful at logical analysis, coordination, planning and problem solving.1
  • A recent report from the Peterson Institute found that 30% female representation on Boards could add up to six percentage points to a company’s net margin.2

Underestimating the importance of gender diversity creates significant issues.

When voice recognition software for the automotive industry was launched, it had a fundamental flaw – the software barely recognized women’s voices.

What went wrong? The original design team was overwhelmingly male and calibrated the voice recognition systems to their own voices and speech patterns.

The value of their innovation was harmed as a result.

Despite the business imperative around diversity, our research report, Navigating disruption without gender diversity? Think again., shows that many organizations are still not making real progress. Around the world and across the seven industries we researched we found a lack of meaningful action that will deliver greater gender diversity in the boardroom.

Over 0% of business leaders said they need to do more to attract, retain and promote women to leadership positions.


What is holding back gender parity?

We found business leaders overwhelmingly recognize the challenges ahead and acknowledge the value of diverse senior leadership in overcoming these.

But five disconnects are holding businesses back from greater gender diversity at Board levels:

  • The reality disconnect

    Business leaders assume the issue is nearly solved, despite little progress within their own companies

    About half of those surveyed told us that they think their Board has already achieved gender parity (defined as 30-40% women), or that it will do so in 10 years. But according to the World Economic Forum, gender parity is 117 years away3.

    And while most respondents value diversity and believe they are making good progress towards achieving gender parity in the longer term, only 13% anticipate significant improvements in the next five years.

    What change do you expect over the next five years to women in senior leadership roles?

    EY - What change do you expect over the next five years to women in senior leadership roles?

    “I suppose it will take us between three and five years to reach gender parity. At the moment there are a lot of women in middle management but not many at the top.”

    Senior executive, insurance, Mexico

    Actions that boards can take today to address this disconnect

  • The data disconnect

    Companies don’t effectively measure how well women are progressing through the workforce and into leadership

    Less than half of the organizations we surveyed formally measure their progress towards improving gender parity.

    And those organizations that do mostly count how many women are in senior leadership positions today - but don’t measure the pipeline of tomorrow’s leaders.

    Without metrics to track women along their career journey, organizations lack information about where – and why – outstanding talent fall off the leadership path.

    How do you measure progress towards gender diversity?

    EY - How do you measure progress towards gender diversity?

    “There is little awareness from the top that there is a lack of women and a lack of women at the top. Nothing will happen until there is awareness of the issue.”

    Senior executive, life sciences, US

    Actions that boards can take today to address this disconnect

  • The pipeline disconnect

    Companies aren’t creating pipelines for future female leaders

    Many organizations say they are effective at attracting and retaining women.

    Only 56% believe they are effective at promoting female leaders.

    And while more than half of respondents say they must improve in this area, less than one-fifth have formal programs to identify and develop women for leadership.

    Executives predominantly develop male and female talent equally

    EY - Executives predominantly develop male and female talent equally

    “There needs to be a formalized process for developing women. It’s not happening organically – this industry is still an 'old boys’ club'.”

    Senior executive, consumer products and retail, Canada

    Actions that boards can take today to address this disconnect

  • The perception and perspective disconnect

    Men and women have different views on the gender diversity gap and how to solve it

    Men and women see the problem of gender parity differently – and have different ideas on how to solve it.

    Almost half (43%) of men said that the biggest barrier to women’s careers was a shortage of female candidates. Only 7% of women agreed.

    How women and men perceive the top barriers to women in leadership

    EY - How women and men perceive the top barriers to women in leadership

    The top three barriers women did list were an unsupportive culture, organizational bias, and the conflicts of raising a family.

    Over half of female respondents said mentoring from senior leaders would help women reach leadership positions. 29% of men agreed. Networking opportunities are also cited as an important enabler by nearly three times as many women as men.

    Both sexes agree that a supportive corporate culture is a top enabler. An inclusive culture encourages diversity of thought and experience at every level and incorporates different points of views in day-to-day decision- making.

    How women and men see the solution

    EY - How women and men see the solution

    “There is unconscious bias that doesn't recognize the differences between men and women. Women tend not to promote themselves as actively as men and our processes do not take this into account.”

    Senior executive, power and utilities, New Zealand

    Actions that boards can take today to address this disconnect

  • The progress disconnect

    Different industries agree on the value of diversity, but are making uneven progress towards achieving gender diversity

    Business leaders across all sectors believe that diversity will be key to navigating the challenges of disruptive innovation.

    But we found differences in perceptions, actions and progress across industries. For example, only 45% of insurance respondents say they are effective at promoting women to leadership, compared to 65% in life sciences.

    How effective do you think your organization has been at promoting women in the last five years?

    EY - How effective do you think your organization has been at promoting women in the last five years?

    Banking and capital markets leads the industries in efforts and progress in addressing gender diversity. 27% of banking respondents said they expect a significant increase in the proportion of women in senior leadership positions within the next five years – more than twice as much as any other industry.

    While EU regulatory pressure partly explain banking’s relative success, other factors include:

    • Recognition of the problem: 92% of banking respondents recognize their organization needs to do more to attract, retain and promote women.
    • Structured programs that identify and develop female talent. One-third of respondents said their organizations have a formal program to develop women’s careers.
    • Formal metrics measure progress. Nearly 60% of banking respondents said their company uses formal metrics.

    Do you expect a significant increase in the number of women in leadership in the next five years?

    EY - Do you expect a significant increase in the number of women in leadership in the next five years?

    “There is a greater recognition that to be truly customer centric, we need greater gender balance.”

    Senior executive, banking and capital markets, Australia

    Actions that boards can take today to address this disconnect

of business leaders expect no change to gender diversity in senior leadership in the next five years.


How can we work together to close the gender gap?

Let’s make gender diverse leadership a reality

Only meaningful and measurable actions at an organizational level and at a personal one will deliver the legacy of a more diverse and inclusive workforce.

None of us can stop disruption from changing the industries in which we operate. Each of us can – and must – take steps now that will optimize our own organization’s ability to successfully meet these disruptive trends.


Making gender diversity a reality must become a business priority.

Both men and women say a supportive corporate culture will help women advance into leadership.


How do sectors compare for gender diversity?

Different industries are making different progress towards gender diverse leadership. Read industry-specific reports to see how yours is doing.

Inspiring women

Inspiring women tell us what has helped them reach leadership

We have spoken with over 30 inspiring women across a number of industries about their experiences, the barriers they overcame and what enabled them as they advanced to leadership positions. Browse our library of stories.

Inspiring women profile: Maria Rey-Marston

Maria Rey-Marston


Organizations are beginning to attract more women into senior roles by changing their definition of winning from a highly individualized and often brutal competition to a more collective model of leadership.
Inspiring women profile: Renee Gala

Renee Gala

Theravance Biopharma

If diversity drives better decisions and better financial returns, then we need more women on boards. And more women on boards will pull more women into the C-suite.
EY - Inspiring women profile: Angela Cretu, Avon

Angela Cretu


My career has happened because of my team’s performance and appetite to innovate – not because I asked for a promotion
EY - Inspiring women profile: Dr. Dagmar Maria Kamber Borens

Dr. Dagmar Maria Kamber Borens

UBS Asia-Pacific

I faced almost all the classic barriers against women. But with the shift in focus towards nurturing female talent, I’m pleased to see these barriers being gradually eroded.
EY - Inspiring women profile: Averil Macdonald

Averil Macdonald, OBE

University of Reading

If we play to a girl's innate abilities, strengths and academic abilities, then of course she'll find a career for herself where she is happy and fulfilled. And many will find they are happy in STEM.

Learn more

Download the full report

Contact leaders

EY - Alison Kay

Alison Kay

Global Vice Chair, Industry

London, UK

+44 20 7951 1786

EY - Randy Miller

Randy Miller

Global Automotive & Transportation Leader

Chicago, IL, US

+1 313 628 8642

EY - Liz Bingham

Liz Bingham, OBE

People Advisory Services, UKI Talent Partner

London, UK

+44 20 7951 9970

To get in touch with a leader, contact Nicola McGregor.

  Contact us

Women. Fast forward.

EY - Women. Fast forward.

Accelerating women’s advancement is an economic imperative that creates higher growth, increased prosperity and stronger communities. Learn what we are doing.

Know more

1“Evidence for a collective intelligence factor in the performance of human groups”, Science website, http://science.sciencemag.org/content/330/6004/686, accessed 6 April 2016

2“New research from The Peterson Institute for International Economics and EY reveals significant correlation between women in corporate leadership and profitability.” EY website, https://www.ey.com/US/en/Newsroom/News-releases/news-ey-new-research-from-the-peterson-institute-for-international-economics-and-ey-reveals-significant-correlation-between-women-in-corporate-leadership-and-profitability, accessed on 6 April 2016.

3World Economic Forum, Global Gender Gap Report 2015