Today, the global average of women on boards is 19.7%, up 2.8% from 2019. And if this rate of change holds steady, the world will reach approximate gender parity in boardrooms by 2045. That's the latest prediction by Deloitte Global, which has been tracking the progress of boardroom diversity in collaboration with the 30% Club, a global business group campaigning for gender diversity in business leadership.
In the seventh edition of 'Women in the boardroom: A global perspective', Deloitte analysts state that this incremental rate of change is actually slightly better than the last prediction: in 2019, global boardroom gender parity was projected for 2052.
"While this is still unacceptably slow, we can find some optimism in the slight acceleration in the pace of change," observes Dan Konigsburg, senior managing director of the Deloitte Global Boardroom Program. However, he also cautions that because this apparent improvement is a global average, it disguises the fact that gender parity in the boardroom is still extremely different between geographies, with the number of women on boards ranging from over 40% in France, to zero in multiple Middle Eastern countries.
The number of women holding top leadership positions, whether that of chairs or CEOs, is even more behind and growing so slowly that it barely seems to be changing at all. The report, as put together by Deloitte and the 30% Club, found that only 6.7% of board chairs and 5% of CEOs are women, up from 5.3% and 4.4% in 2019. And this is problematic, because overall diversity in a company, with its trickle-down effects on employee satisfaction, employee performance, and business ability to satisfy stakeholders, is heavily affected by whether or not there is diversity among the top leadership.
For boards specifically, the report shows that companies with women CEOs or chairs have around 33.5% women on the board of directors, well above the 19.7% average - making those boards better-equipped than average to support innovation and deal with changes in the operating environment.
What's the way forward?
The report reiterated the importance of several factors that can help get more women into positions of leadership. One is providing women leaders and potential leaders with the training needed to help them build relationships and advocate for themselves. This includes raising the visibility of existing women leaders to present aspirational models for the next generation of leaders.
Another is overall cultural change, where the move to bring in more women leaders cannot be done in isolation, but needs to be part of the business strategy. Along with this, companies also need to broaden their horizons when recruiting directors, and look beyond the C-suite - which will automatically increase their talent pool beyond that small percentage of women who have made it to C-level leadership positions. As an executive recruiter interviewed for the report put it: "What are you doing to help move people up in your own company who will be board qualified?"
Most importantly, companies need to recognise the real and tangible benefits of having a diverse leadership group. "Business is better when it is led by the best and brightest minds from both halves of the global talent pool," says Ann Cairns, the global chair of the 30% Club.