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Press Release

Global survey finds drop in women in senior management

22% of senior roles held by women is slightly up from 2004 (19%) but down from 24% last year, highlighting broad stagnation.

Kuala Lumpur, 06 March 2015: Ahead of International Women’s Day this Sunday, an annual survey from Grant Thornton reveals that the proportion of business leadership roles held by women around the world has dropped. Globally, 22% of senior roles held by women is slightly up from 2004 (19%) but down from 24% last year, highlighting broad stagnation.

40% of senior business roles in Russia are occupied by women, the highest in the world, and almost double the global average (22%). The next five countries on the list are all near neighbours: Georgia (38%), Poland (37%), Latvia (36%), Estonia (35%) and Lithuania (33%). Japan (8%) and India (15%) are joined at the bottom of the rankings by Germany (14%).

In the ASEAN region, the proportion of senior roles held by women has dropped to 22% as compared to 35% last year. Indonesia has the least senior roles held by women (20%), followed by Malaysia (22%) and Singapore (23%).

YBhg Dato’ NK Jasani, Country Managing Partner of SJ Grant Thornton said, "The ASEAN countries have historically benefitted from economical childcare infrastructure in the form of families living nearby, allowing women to go out to work. However mass urbanisation is starting to erode these support structures as well as raising aspirations and increasing job opportunities for women, meaning many choose to have children later in life, if at all."

"Malaysia does not practice a strong hierarchy and patriarchal society like Japan, which prevent women from reaching the upper echelons of the business world – but it is apparent that more and more women of high positions are leaving the workforce," he added.

"The survey reveals that the number of women in senior management in Malaysia has been on a decline ever since year 2011 (31% to 22%)," he said. 

Barriers to career advancement

"The advancement of women into senior leadership is hampered by several barriers. Half of the female respondents in Malaysia (50%) cited that they have other significant family responsibilities and this is a barrier to their career advancement. Some have to juggle care of young children and elderly parents," explained Dato’ Jasani.

"37% of the female respondents expressed that there are too few women with the necessary skills applying for senior management roles. 32% of the female respondents feel that the lack of female role models and insufficient support structures for women are also barriers as there is no guidance to push them further," he added. 

Recommendations for women on how to facilitate career paths


Some of the social norms governing the role of women in business are deeply engrained and are distinctly unhelpful to female progression. The society should stop holding female leaders up to a higher standard. Many of the female leaders we spoke with wanted to be known not as female business leaders, but simply as business leaders; successful in their own right, not because they happen to be women.

The female leaders with children in the survey stressed how important the support of their husbands/partners has been allowing them to forge a career path. However, some of these men faced social and workplace stigma that made it difficult for them to take time off, therefore the stigmatisation of men who choose to stay at home for family reasons must end.

We have to also update the outdated leadership stereotype as the old stereotypes of aggressive and hierarchal leadership no longer fit our world and the challenges we face. In fact, leaders who use skills such as collaboration, empathy, and flexibility, which are often stereotyped as female traits, may be best placed to drive future economic growth. 


The Government can play an important role in getting more women into the upper echelons of the business world through the introduction of legislation governing the composition of boards, facilitate shared parental leave or building relevant infrastructure.

There is an increasing support among business leaders for the introduction of quotas. In Malaysia, more than half (70%) of both male and female respondents support quotas to get women on the boards of large listed companies, up from 59% in 2013.

Governments can facilitate women’s leadership by building both the legal and physical infrastructure to help them prosper. This means ensuring there are laws in place that protect women from discrimination in the workplace and reviewing laws that might treat women differently to men on a range of issues. 


Businesses need to make top-level commitment to facilitate women’s career paths. An increasing number of companies of differing sizes are making commitments to women’s leadership and advancement and laying them out in company policies, including addressing unconscious gender bias in the workplace and in hiring practices, and introducing formal mentoring and sponsorship programmes.

Leadership positions in companies need to be more attractive as leadership roles that offer greater flexibility to allow for family or other obligations can attract more working women to take up senior roles.

Businesses should also invest in mentoring and building role models. This could be in the form of support structures such as mentoring and sponsorship programmes. Businesses that make a commitment to women’s leadership by easing barriers make an important contribution by helping to shift perceptions and create role models both inside their organisations, in their industries and the wider economy.


There is a need for women just below senior management to take on stretch roles and assignments that will help to get them noticed. Too often, women will over analyse the challenge and shrink away from the work for fear of failure or the extra strain it will put on their home life.

Women often self-select out of opportunities because of their own perceptions of what is expected of them or their own comfort levels. Women could push themselves out of their comfort zone such as considering new networking opportunities such as playing golf – a game which is dominated mostly by men.

Tackling gender bias is not the sole responsibility of women, but the research clearly shows that men are less likely to see it as a barrier to female advancement. Therefore, women need to challenge organisation to remove gender bias. It is important for women to hold companies to account in terms of their commitment to workplace and leadership diversity.

"We’ve heard businesses talk the talk on gender equality for decades now, but still too few are walking the walk. Aside from the moral issue of ensuring equal opportunity for all, a more representative blend of women and men in senior roles just makes good business sense. If an economy is only using half its most talented people then it immediately cuts its growth potential," said Dato Jasani.


  • Stop holding female leaders up to a higher standard
  • End the stigmatisation of men who share childcare
  • Update the outdated leadership stereotype


  • Facilitate shared parental leave
  • Consider recommendations for women on boards
  • Build the necessary infrastructure and legislation


  • Make a top-level commitment to support women leaders
  • Design leadership positions to be more attractive
  • Invest in mentoring and build role models


  • Put your hand up for stretch assignments
  • Push yourself out of your comfort zone
  • Challenge your organisation to remove gender bias


The full report, 'Women in business: the path to leadership', which outlines 12 recommendations for society, government, business and women on how to facilitate female career paths is available at



For more information please contact:

Sharon Sung, Technical and Corporate Affairs Partner, T  +60 3 2692 4022,


Charmane Koh, Corporate Affairs Assistant Manager, T  +60 3 2692 4022,

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