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International Business Report (IBR)

Diversity in business: why do we care?

Francesca Lagerberg explores the annual women in business data

For over a decade Grant Thornton has published the proportion of business leadership roles held by women.  Every year the result disappoints. So, why do we do it? Why do we, as advisors to dynamic businesses, care?

To put it simply: when women thrive, businesses thrive. If an economy is only using half its most talented people then it immediately cuts its growth potential. And economies cannot simply throw more (male) labour at the problem: a recent McKinsey report[1] showed how ageing populations and lower birth rates in many advanced economies are weighing on productivity growth. Interestingly, two of the economies sitting on a ticking demographic time bomb highlighted in the McKinsey report - Germany and Japan - rank bottom of our index for the proportion of senior leadership roles held by women. Getting more women into the workforce will not solve the looming productivity crisis but it would be a step in the right direction.

More broadly businesses need to think about how they access different skillsets. We are all aware of the danger of 'groupthink'; diversity simply leads to better decisions in all walks of life. Business growth comes from diversity of opinion; from thinking and acting differently from the competition. As my colleague Sacha Romanovitch puts it, businesses need to create "a bigger map of the world" by broadening their horizons and opening themselves up to new thinking. Gender is just one strand of diversity, but it is a major and grossly under-used one according to our findings.

There is also a moral issue here. Are women being given the same opportunities as men? Do women hold fewer leadership roles out of choice? Or are there cultural or social barriers to their advancement that we should not accept in the 21st century?

So what does this report add to the debate?

Last year's report (From classroom to boardroom) found that an increasing number of female graduates has not yet translated into increasing participation in the upper echelons of the business world. So this year we decided to focus on career paths to better understand the barriers to women's progress into leadership roles.

Drawing on 5,404 interviews in 35 economies conducted through our International Business Report and 20 in-depth interviews with senior business leaders, the 2015 report (The path to leadership) finds that women's advancement is being constrained by a number of factors, from entrenched social norms and gender bias to parenthood and archaic business practices. Clearly there is no silver bullet to combat such a broad range of barriers, but the research offers insight into the actions society, governments, businesses and women themselves can take to begin the process of change (see them all in this short video). By following our recommendations each group would be unlocking its own potential for growth, by raising diversity and boosting productivity. Ignoring them is quite simply a colossal waste.

[1] "Can long-term global growth be saved?" - McKinsey Global Institute (2015)