Women Embrace Finance in C-Suite Drive, But Bigger Challenges Remain

by FEI Daily Staff

Women are more likely to achieve a C-suite position through the finance or human resources function than any other corporate career path, although the numbers of women making it to the top of the corporate ladder has remained stagnant or slipped over the past decade.

Women represent 18% of Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and 14% of corporate controller roles globally, according to new research from the Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR) published last week. The most popular leadership role for women globally is Human Resources Director at 27%.

That’s compared to only 9% of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) or Chief Operating Officers (COO) roles being held by women, according to the Grant Thornton survey of 5,400 business leaders in 36 economies.

“[There] is a pronounced tradition in many emerging markets of women running household budgets,” explained Rose Zhou, partner at Grant Thornton China in a statement issued with the report. “[Traits] typically associated with women – such a more rational, level-headed approach – lend themselves well to finance roles”.

The report pointed out, however, only 21 percent of all senior business roles in the United States are occupied by women, a decrease from 22 percent the previous year and a “minute” increase of just 1 percent from 2004. The research also reveals that of the U.S. women in senior management roles, just 6 percent are chief executive officers.

The lack of gender progress at the highest levels of the global corporate landscape ran across industries, with the  the clean technology sector seeing a 13 percent drop in the number of female senior leaders in two years. Separately in the manufacturing sector, the percentage of women in senior management dropped slightly from 20 percent in 2013 to 19 percent in 2015.

The lack of significant progress during the past decade for U.S. women in senior management is disappointing. Companies have been talking the talk on gender equality for decades, but still too few are walking the walk,” said Erica O’Malley, Grant Thornton LLP’s national managing partner of Diversity & Inclusion in a statement. “U.S. businesses must take steps now to eradicate gender bias and shift expectations around the role of women, which have contributed to success in other economies when it comes to advancing women.”