Only a tenth of senior leaders in world top 500 companies are women: Weber Shandwick

The PR agency's Gender Forward Pioneer Index 2016 report also found that the most admired companies have a higher proportion of female leaders

Vanessa Ho
Vanessa Ho

Women make up just 10.9 percent of senior leadership positions at the world’s 500 largest companies, a new report from Weber Shandwick has found.

The agency today released its Gender Forward Pioneer (GFP) Index 2016, which also said across Asia-Pacific, the number of senior female leaders is just 4 percent.

Moreover, nearly four in 10 companies have an all-male senior leadership team.

Alongside these figures stands Weber’s finding that companies recognised as having the "most admired" reputations by industry peers are those with a higher proportion of women as senior leaders, although well below gender parity levels.

The GFI report evaluated more than 8,600 executives across 36 countries. Weber audited the Fortune Global 500 companies and identified their top-level executives and their genders.

Using the Fortune World’s Most Admired rankings as a guide, Weber found that the Most Admired brands have twice as many women in senior leadership roles as those with weaker reputations – 17 percent versus 8 percent respectively.

"We clearly see a reputational benefit going to organisations with more women in senior executive positions. But despite a strong business case for improving gender balance, our GFP Index illustrates the current, stark reality where women are under-represented in the most senior corporate ranks," said Vanessa Ho, managing director of Weber Shandwick Singapore.

"It’s time for companies to proactively and positively encourage female leaders within their organisations, and experience the benefits a more balanced senior team brings."

Further findings in the report include that Sweden has the highest female representation in senior management in a single market – 27 percent – closely followed by Turkey with 26 percent.

General merchandise is the best industry for top-level female executives, with an index of 33 percent. However, five industries still have no women on their senior leadership boards: diversified wholesalers, food and grocery wholesalers, shipping, temporary help and textiles.

Only 13 of the Global Fortune 500 companies have a female CEO.

Following almost a decade of research on gender parity, Weber Shandwick has formally launched its ‘women leaders engagement’ service to help senior female leaders enhance their profiles to boost company reputation.

Leslie Gaines-Ross, the firm’s chief reputation strategist, said: "Weber Shandwick strongly believes that gender equality is rapidly becoming a new driver of company reputation.

"Let’s get real. The media continues to be highly influential and journalists pay rapt attention to this hot-button gender topic, so corporate leaders are well advised to respect the reputational return on investment and competitive advantage that comes with gender balance at the top."

The GFP Index is a supplement to Gender Equality in the Executive Ranks: A Paradox — The Journey to 2030, a global study sponsored by Weber Shandwick and KRC Research and conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit in 2015.

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