With gender equality and diversity on many corporates agenda, doubts are emerging around the substance and measurable action behind the words of global businesses.

Grant Thornton’s global survey marking Sunday’s International Women’s Day found only 22% of senior business roles within surveyed companies held by women, down from 24% the year before. Additionally, 32% of surveyed businesses have no female leaders.

Grant Thornton has been surveying companies on the issue for the past decade and warns the proportion of women reaching the top tier of business has shown little progress over the past decade. The research shows Eastern European countries are the strongest for senior female business leaders, including seven of the top ten, with Russia at number one. 40% of senior business roles in Russia are occupied by women, the highest in the world, and almost double the global average. Japan on the other hand has the lowest number of women in senor roles at a stagnant 8%.

The UK and the US are in the middle of the league table with 22% and 21% female leaders respectively. The mid-tier network also found increasing support among business leaders for the introduction of quotas. Globally, almost half, 47%, of both male and female senior managers now support quotas to get women on the boards of large listed companies, up from 37% in 2013.

The main reasons hindering women’s progress to top position remain to the question of parenthood and family care as well as the likelihood of working their way up to management support positions, according to Grant Thornton.

The Grant Thornton research is based on 5,404 interviews conducted between September and December 2014 with chief executive officers, managing directors, chairmen and other senior decision-makers from all industry sectors in mid-market businesses in 35 economies.

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Are millennials better placed for change?
PwC’s research around International Women’s Day surveyed 1,400 female millennials (women born between 1980 and 1995), finding women more confident about their career prospects; however 66% said that opportunities are not equal for all. Additionally, 50% of British millennials believe employers are too male biased when it comes to promoting employees from within, which is higher than the global average which is at 43%.

Nevertheless, the Big Four firm found that when it comes to diversity, 83% of surveyed women in Britain seek out employers with a strong record and diversity and 41% felt they could reach the top with their employer.

Related links:
Women in business: the path to leadership

PwC Women in Work Index