A pandemic-prompted change in working practices has brought about progress for women in senior leadership, according to Grant Thornton’s 2023 International Business Report (IBR) research into women in Singapore mid-market businesses.
Progress on the overall proportion of women in senior leadership rises decisively in Singapore and in Southeast Asia, climbing ahead of other markets globally. In Singapore, the 2023 report found that the proportion of women in senior management spiked to 39 per cent, up eight points from 32 per cent in 2022.
This figure was based on a three-year moving average, a simple average of the current year and the last two years results.
In Southeast Asia, mid-market businesses also reflected the same proportion of women in senior leadership in the three-year moving average at 39 per cent, ahead of the global 32 per cent.
Belinda Tan, Head of Forensic Advisory at Grant Thornton Singapore says, “This continuous push for greater diversity is moving in tandem with Regulators’ advocacy as well as the emphasis on environmental, social and governance.”
Building the pipeline
The research shows that many mid-market businesses have focused on succession planning to get more women into senior leadership positions, including implementing programmes for wellbeing, mentoring, coaching, and leadership development.
In Singapore, the top measure to attract and retain a strong pipeline of future leaders was to focus on implementing strong wellbeing training and support programmes, at 34 per cent.
With 29 per cent of Singapore senior executives finding that clarity and equal opportunity will be a key measure to build the pipeline, businesses must focus their attention on developing more transparent pathways to leadership and more transparency across recruitment, promotions, and performance.
“As leaders, we must stand for clarity and equal opportunity around leadership roles, from recruitment to performance reviews,” says David Sandison, Practice Leader at Grant Thornton Singapore. “This will greatly support individuals who are striving towards leadership roles and builds shared understanding and expectations across the organisation.”
A working model that works
Additionally, a significant boost to the number of women in leadership roles will come from more businesses committing to flexible working and developing the right organisational culture to support it. Grant Thornton’s research has found that flexible, hybrid and home-based models have the highest levels of women in senior leadership roles.
Across the world, in mid-market businesses that have adopted a hybrid way of working, 34 per cent of senior leaders are women, while in businesses that are fully flexible where staff choose how they work, it’s 36 per cent. Just 29 per cent of senior management is female in mid-market businesses globally with predominantly office-based models.
This finding aligns with the actions that one in two mid-market businesses are taking in Singapore. The top action to engage employees in the last 12 months was to promote work-life balance and flexibility for employees (49 per cent), followed by creating the right environments with open-door policies (40 per cent) and a culture of ‘speaking up’ (39 per cent).
“While research has shown that diverse teams perform better, teams do not reap the benefits of diversity if those with differing views stay silent,” says Belinda Tan, Head of Forensic Advisory at Grant Thornton Singapore.
“That’s why creating a psychologically safe environment is critical. When staff members feel safe to share ideas, ask for help, give and take feedback, they will not only benefit the team, they will also be better supported to achieve their potential.”