It’s a Slow Climb to the Top for Women

Getting to the top of an organization is a slow, steep journey. (Photo of Mount Everest by Karem Barut, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

International Women’s Day is on Sunday, and I wish I had better news.

According to the Grant Thornton International Business Report, a survey of more than 5,400 business leaders in 36 economies, the number of women in senior management roles in the United States has only increased by 1 percent in the past 10 years.


The report stated women occupy only 21 percent of senior business roles in the United States, down from 22 percent the previous year, and an increase of just 1 percent from 2004. Of the U.S. women in senior roles, just 6 percent are chief executive officers. Most female senior business leaders work in HR (44 percent), as corporate controller (20 percent) or as chief marketing officer (19 percent).

“The lack of significant progress during the past decade for U.S. women in senior management is disappointing,” said Erica O’Malley, Grant Thornton LLP’s national managing partner of diversity & inclusion. “Companies have been talking the talk on gender equality for decades, but still too few are walking the walk.”

O’Malley said U.S. businesses have to act now to eradicate gender bias and shift expectations around roles for women, and how they contribute to success in various global economies, in order for advancement to occur.

Globally, things are comparable. Women hold 22 percent of senior roles — a 3 percent increase from 2004, but down from 24 percent last year. Japan remains at the bottom of the list with 8 percent of senior roles held by women, followed by Germany (14 percent) and India and Brazil (15 percent).

There has been some improvement. Women occupy 26 percent of senior roles in the European Union, which is an all-time high. But the number in Latin America has fallen to 18 percent, an all-time low.

Russia has the highest percentage of women in senior business roles in the world at 40 percent. The next top five countries on the list are all in Eastern Europe: Georgia (38 percent), Poland (37 percent), Latvia (36 percent), Estonia (35 percent) and Lithuania (33 percent).