China has made huge strides in cracking down on what until recently was seen as very much an “all boys’ club” at the top levels of corporate management, according to fresh figures published on Thursday by accounting and consulting firm Grant Thornton to coincide with International Women’s Day.
They show 88 per cent of Chinese mainland firms now have at least one woman on their senior management teams – considerably ahead of the global average of 75 per cent, and an 11-percentage-point improvement in the past 12 months.
The figures have been tracked annually by Grant Thornton since 1992, which this year polled 4,995 businesses in 35 countries.
Its new findings illustrate that emerging economies such as China, and those across Africa, are now a lot more willing to embrace innovation and technology development, which is helping pave the way, it says, in promoting gender equality.
The result means China now has more companies with at least one female senior exec than many other global regions, beating Eastern Europe (87pc), the US (81pc), Asia-Pacific (71pc) and Latin America (65pc).
Only Africa tops China’s performance, with 89 per cent of those polled on the continent reporting they now employ at least one female in an exec role.
In total, 31 per cent of senior positions in China are held by women, unchanged from last year, but again that tops the rest of Asia-Pacific, which has an average 23 per cent of senior posts filled by the fairer sex.
Individually as countries within the region, the Philippines ranked top with 47 per cent of senior management seats filled by women, followed by Indonesia (43pc), Thailand (42pc). But China is ahead of India (20pc), Australia (15pc) and Japan (5pc).
“Despite the overall positive result, it is disappointing that the importance of women in senior management is being spread so thinly,” said Mabel Chan, deputy managing partner at Grant Thornton Hong Kong.
“Leaders need to value the benefit of diversity and listen to a wider range of voices.”
The study also suggested, she said, that no single policy seems to be driving gender diversity.
As an example, it found while both the Philippines and Japan had adopted equal pay for men and women performing the same roles and non-discrimination policies for recruitment, levels of gender diversity still vary significantly across organisations and sectors.
“It’s clear that simply introducing policies is not enough to drive real progress on gender diversity,” Chan said. “ Leaders are the only ones who can really press for change.”
A separate survey by data company Thomson Reuters, meanwhile, shows Hong Kong firms are finding it a lot harder to achieve gender equality.
Just 26 per cent of 80 Hong Kong firms polled thought they would never be able to achieve a balanced female representation, while 43 per cent said the process could take as long as 5-10 years to achieve.
Just over half (51pc) of senior Hong Kong executives said deep-rooted cultural issues remain the biggest barrier to achieving a gender balance at the top, while 31 per cent accepted it was a clear case of what it called “unconscious bias”.
Some 38 per cent of respondents said they had experienced such bias, particularly at mid-management level, while 36 per cent had felt it right from the start of their careers.
“It’s clear that as a business community we need to do more to encourage greater equality, whether that is through increasing transparency, assigning more mentors or publicly setting targets,” said Sanjeev Chatrath, managing director and region head for Asia, financial and risk, at Thomson Reuters.
“But a real culture change needs to happen.”