United States trails much of world with representation of women in business leadership

Proportion of senior roles held by women in U.S. and percentage of American businesses with no women in senior management remain unchanged

CHICAGO--()--On International Women’s Day, a new report based on Grant Thornton International Ltd.’s annual survey of 5,500 businesses in 36 economies reveals the United States continues to lag much of the world when it comes to the proportion of women in senior business roles.

The report, Women in Business: New perspectives on risk and reward, reveals that the global proportion of senior business roles held by women has reached a high of 25 percent. However, the figure is an increase of just one percent from 2016, and has only improved six percent in the 13 years since the research began. This progress, while slow, outpaces the United States, which saw no year-over-year change.

Key U.S. findings from the report include:

  • The proportion of senior roles held by women remained the same at 23 percent, which is up only 3 percent since the start of the research 13 years ago;
  • The percentage of businesses with no women in senior management remained unchanged at 31 percent;
  • Human resource director (27 percent), chief financial officer (16 percent), chief marketing officer (10 percent) and chief operating officer (10 percent) are the most common senior business roles for U.S. women; and
  • The percentage of women holding the role of chief executive officer increased from 5 to 9 percent year over year.

The lack of significant progress to increase the number of women in senior executive roles in recent years is concerning,” said Pamela Harless, chief people & culture officer of Grant Thornton LLP. “There’s no shortage of data on the rational business case for increasing women’s representation, but leaders are far more effective when they advance the conversation from a place of real passion and by holding themselves accountable for creating an inclusive and diverse environment.”

Global diversity

Grant Thornton’s global report shows that developing regions continue to outperform developed economies in terms of diversity in senior management. Eastern Europe performed best, with 38 percent of senior roles held by women in 2017, up from 35 percent in 2016, and the percentage of businesses with no women in senior management falling from 16 percent in 2016 to just 9 percent in 2017. Meanwhile the MINT economies (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey) saw the most improvement, with the proportion of senior roles held by women rising from 24 percent in 2016 to 28 percent in 2017 and the percentage of businesses with no women in senior management falling from 36 percent in 2016 to 27 percent in 2017.

Evaluating risk

The report also explores the role of gender when it comes to managing the threat and seizing the opportunity for growth that risk can bring. The findings illustrate that men and women see risks and opportunities through a different lens, which provides a diversity of thinking when combined together. Data from the report reveals that women overall see lower levels of risk when considering aspects of organizational and commercial life such as political or economic change, as well as lower levels of opportunity.

Men tend to consider whether taking a risk will facilitate strategic growth, whereas women focus more on the wider environment and the impact on people,” added Harless. She explains that strategic risk is often better publicized and more highly regarded, so “while women may be taking as many risks, they do so in areas that aren’t as visible.”

The full report Women in Business 2017: New perspectives on risk and reward is available at www.internationalbusinessreport.com

Notes to editors

The Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR) launched in 1992 initially in nine European countries now provides insight into the views and expectations of more than 10,000 businesses per year across 36 economies.

Data collection

Data collection is managed by Grant Thornton’s core research partner, Millward Brown. Questionnaires are translated into local languages with each participating country having the option to ask a small number of country specific questions in addition to the core questionnaire. Fieldwork is undertaken on a quarterly basis. The research is carried out primarily by telephone.


IBR is a survey of both listed and privately held businesses. The data for this release is drawn from interviews with 5,506 chief executive officers, managing directors, chairmen or other senior executives from all industry sectors conducted between October and December 2016.

About Grant Thornton LLP

Founded in Chicago in 1924, Grant Thornton LLP (Grant Thornton) is the U.S. member firm of Grant Thornton International Ltd, one of the world’s leading organizations of independent audit, tax and advisory firms. Grant Thornton, which has revenues in excess of $1.6 billion and operates 59 offices, works with a broad range of dynamic publicly and privately held companies, government agencies, financial institutions, and civic and religious organizations.

“Grant Thornton” refers to Grant Thornton LLP, the U.S. member firm of Grant Thornton International Ltd (GTIL). GTIL and the member firms are not a worldwide partnership. Services are delivered by the member firms. GTIL and its member firms are not agents of, and do not obligate, one another and are not liable for one another’s acts or omissions. Please see grantthornton.com for further details.


Grant Thornton LLP
Kate Hollcraft
T 847.691.9486
E press@us.gt.com


Grant Thornton LLP
Kate Hollcraft
T 847.691.9486
E press@us.gt.com