As our society, in general, keeps moving forward at a blistering pace, so do our ideas and notions of what makes up a good and progressive society. With the advancement of technology, the increase in social awareness, and the popularity of social issues such as human rights and equality becoming more prevalent, our tendency as humans is to adapt to these changes. As such, businesses are inevitably influenced by these progressive ideologies of justice and inclusivity. And it is no secret that gender inequality is currently one of society’s most widespread social issues that I believe needs more attention. Not because I, myself, am a woman, but because diversity, equity, and inclusion are all characteristics that I hold dear, and these are exactly the type of qualities that I wish for more people to propagate as well, for both business-minded individuals and non-entrepreneurs alike.

Respect is a basic value at Grant Thornton, and we often discuss and prioritize issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Respect for human dignity is the conviction that each and every person must recognize and realize. It is the intrinsic value and worth of everyone we meet that we must uphold, because that is what pushes society forward. By respecting one another, we involuntarily contribute to society and the workplace. And obviously, respect will always lead to growth and equality.

Interestingly, an article by Forbes recognizes that diversity and inclusion are values that are both necessary for the success of modern businesses. Diversity and inclusion cultivate an expressive workplace environment wherein vast ideas, cultures, and lifestyles all lead to an improvement in a company’s culture. As the article expounds, having different types of people from different races, backgrounds, and genders gives the company a myriad of unique ideas. And because each person can contribute their own specific opinion or mindset, it allows the company to grow multilaterally out of respect for each other’s opinions and diversity. Thus, giving way to the recognition of social issues such as gender parity and how they need to be addressed more.

Motivated by this concept of respect and diversity, we have been pursuing the study of women’s rights annually, and just recently, Grant Thornton’s 2023 Women in Business Report (WIB) was completed. As the findings of the research will demonstrate, there is definitely a need for gender equality and inclusivity in the workplace. The research’s results also show that gender equality in the workplace heavily influences businesses, because it is a requirement for being attractive to both customers and employees.

While progress on the overall number of women in senior leadership continues, this year’s research shows that women in mid-market companies globally hold 32.4% of senior management positions, up only 0.5 percentage points from last year’s 31.9%. In the 19 years since we began monitoring this percentage, the proportion has only shifted by 13 percentage points. The curve has steepened in recent years, but there’s still much more to do. Without a greater level of intent from businesses, the percentage of senior management positions held by women will only reach 34% by 2025. Furthermore, an alarming rate of 9% of mid-market businesses globally still have no women in senior leadership roles, while 9.7% had only one woman in senior leadership roles.

On the brighter side, despite only having a slight increase in the percentage of women in senior leadership positions, this year’s research shows a significant broadening of the roles women in positions hold. Globally, there has been a huge increase in the percentage of women occupying the roles of Chief Executive Officer (CEO)/Managing Director (MD), and Chief Information Officer (CIO) positions. Back in 2019, just 15% of businesses globally had a female CEO/MD. Now, that number is around 28%. Female CIO positions, on the other hand, rose from 16% to 23% over the same period. Female Chief Operating Officers (COOs) and Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) have also been on the rise, with 25% of businesses globally now having a female COO and 38% having a female CFO, according to the data.

To give a better idea of how the data implicates our country and its culture, we can compare the global data to the Philippine data. According to the WIB, fortunately, there are indeed improvements in the COO and sales director positions, while the ratio for the CIO is flat. However, there is a decline in the percentage of women in CEO roles here in the Philippines, which means that there is still much more to be done in improving gender parity internationally.

On a more positive note, the data also reveals that there have been new female leaders appointed within the industries in the Philippines, which have traditionally been dominated by men. A few examples of these are Lorelei Osial, President and CEO of Pilipinas Shell; Martha Sazon, President and CEO of Gcash; Ambe Tierro, Country Manager of Accenture; and Abigail Tine Del Rosario, the First Filipina President and CEO of Maybank in the Philippines. 

The 2023 WIB research also identifies a few factors that could explain this acceleration and improvement of women in senior management roles in Philippine industries.

One of which is through the external pressures around Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG).  The establishment of global ESG standards and regulations is putting pressure on firms to form diverse leadership teams, emphasizing more women in senior leadership.  Secondly, government policies to promote diversity have also helped equalize the playing field, as countries around the world have been mandating public companies to support diversity, such as in India and Australia.

Lastly, perhaps the most significant boost to achieving gender parity could come from a continued commitment from global businesses to provide flexible working setups. This year’s research shows that businesses that offer hybrid and flexible setups, or those that are allowed to work from home, easily outperform those that do not have this option of flexibility. When it comes to women in senior management, I firmly believe that the more flexible the workplace, the more we will be able to see women getting into more senior leadership roles. And to conclude, although the push for an inclusive and equal workplace has been gaining momentum, worldwide popularity, and instances of victory here and there, it is not without its challenges, and the first step to truly conquering this issue is by sowing respect, diversity, and equality.


As published in The Manila Times, dated 22 March 2023