Why is gender equality important to boardroom and C-suite leadership?

Recent progress in increasing gender diversity on corporate boards and leadership teams has been steady but unspectacular. Promoting gender quality in the workplace has also been far from uniform by country. Unfortunately, many companies are still failing to see why gender equality is important at the senior level—and their boardrooms and C-suites show it. According to a recent report from Altrata, women account for just 28.2% of board members and just 5% of CEOs among the corporations of the major indices across 20 of the world's major economies. Among the Global 20's major listed corporations, 81 had all-male boards, but not one had an all-female board. Much remains to be done, especially when it comes to raising the very low percentage of women in powerful senior executive roles.

Altrata’s inaugural Global Gender Diversity report examines the level and nature of women’s representation on the boards and leadership teams of more than 1,675 major publicly traded companies across 20 countries around the world as of the first quarter of 2022. The report shines a spotlight on female board representation, highlighting cross-country similarities, differences, and changes over time. Let’s dig into the key findings about current gender equality issues and how to improve gender equality in the workplace at the senior leadership level. We’ll also look at the importance of educating employees on how to promote gender equality at work. 

Gender equality by country and the impact of quotas on global gender diversity 

Across the Global 20, women’s representation on leading corporate boards is greater than it was a decade ago. Gender diversity in the boardroom, however, continues to vary widely between countries. According to Altrata’s report: 

  • France has the highest share of female board members (44%), ahead of Italy and the UK with just under 40%.  
  • Germany and the US each stand at 31%.  
  • Women hold less than 20% in Japan, Russia, Brazil, Hong Kong and India.  
  • Women hold only 6.3% of board positions in the UAE 

Unfortunately, this means that most businesses have a long way to go to improve gender equality at work before they reach the full level of diversity and inclusion necessary to see true success.  

Mandated or voluntary quotas and their impact on gender diversity 

On average, gender diversity on boards is greater in countries with mandated or voluntary quotas around gender. Across the nine countries in the Global 20 that have gender quotas, women account for 31% of board members, compared with an average of 25.9% in the 11 countries with no such requirements.  

Although these figures suggest that mandating female representation on boards can help improve gender balance, the reality is more complex. Some legislative moves and mandates toward gender equality are very recent, which makes it difficult to determine what their impact will look like over time. Changes in corporate culture and legislation continue to play a substantial role in the shifting balance of gender across boardrooms. Since different countries will have their own unique combination of legislation and requirements, however, it is impossible to predict exactly how that balance will change in the future. 

Small companies vs. larger firms 

Interestingly, Altrata found that larger US- and UK-listed firms have more gender-balanced boards than their smaller peers. Almost 28% of directors at S&P SmallCap 600 firms in the US are female, compared with 31% among S&P 500 companies. In the UK, women hold 33% of board positions at FTSE SmallCap Index companies, well below their 40% share at FTSE 100 firms.  


Current gender equality issues across boardroom and leadership positions  

Right now, women account for just 28.2% of board members among the corporations of the major indices across 20 of the world's major economies. Many of these women were also appointed to non-executive roles, which are often centered on board oversight rather than real decision-making power. According to the Altrata report: 

  • Only about 9.9% of executive directors are women. 
  • Around 8.9% of board chairs are female. 
  • A third of non-executive posts are held by a woman. This shift can significantly skew the overall number of females in the boardroom if not represented appropriately.  

At 19.2%, female presence on corporate leadership teams (commonly referred to as the C-suite) is even lower than it is on boards. Only 5% of CEOs are women. Women continue to be heavily underrepresented in top leadership positions. This gender discrimination in the workplace continues to impact the futures of many women around the world—and continues to have a significant impact on overall diversity and inclusion in many companies. 


Having women in the C-suite and boardroom makes a positive impact  

Advancing gender equity remains a prominent corporate topic, and with good reason: increasing female representation in high-level leadership has the potential to have a serious impact on the company. Studies from McKinsey and Harvard Business Review have shown that companies with more diverse boards and leadership teams benefit from a wider range of experience, skills and perspectives. Not only that, they generally perform better than companies with lower overall levels of diversity.  

A look at the impact of gender equality in the workplace 

Gender diversity at the top of a company appears to make a real difference. Altrata's study notes that companies with female CEOs or chairs tend to have greater gender diversity on their boards and leadership teams than those with male CEOs or chairs. The C-suite is important to gender balance for two main reasons:  

  • It reflects a corporation's ability to support and train emerging female leaders within the company (though leadership team members are also recruited externally).  
  • The leadership team is often the source of the future CEO and board members (also of other organizations) in the longer term.  

If not enough women are gaining the corporate experience necessary to qualify for the most powerful board roles, such as CEO, this may slow the progress towards achieving equity at the highest levels of corporate power.  

Exaggerated concerns can lead to gender discrimination in the workplace 

Many men cite concerns that women may be more prone than men to "overboarding," or sitting on an excessive number of boards in an effort to gain more overall power. These worries, however, appear to be exaggerated. Across the Global 20, male directors at the corporations of the major indices sit on an average of 1.8 public-company boards and female directors 2.1. Both men and women may also sit on private-company boards. 

There has been discussion, in the context of legislative mandates such as quotas, around whether it is a small number of women who are filling many of the public board seats. Evidence, however, does not bear out these worries. 


How to improve gender equality in the workplace with DEI training  

An effective way to improve gender equality in the workplace and help close the gender gap is to educate employees on how to promote gender equality at work and maintain an environment that benefits your entire team. Not only does DEI training help increase overall gender diversity in the workplace, it can help your employees feel a greater overall sense of pride in the workplace, since they will know about your organization's overall commitment to maintaining gender equality. 

What does DEI training offer? 

Using powerful and emotional videos that depict realistic scenarios, DEI training can help learners understand how to better support women at work and pick up practical steps on how to promote gender equality in the workplace. LRN's "Gender Equality" course is one step in the journey to help close the gender gap and increase equality. This DEI training course builds empathy for the global realities of gender inequality, helps us recognize how our biases contribute to it, and explores ways learners can be allies for gender equality. The end goal is to create a healthy workplace where people at all levels feel they have the support they need to achieve their full potential, regardless of gender.  


The key takeaway  

Creating a healthy workplace where people at all levels feel they have the support they need to achieve their full potential, regardless of gender, is essential to improving business performance.  LRN's learning experiences ensure all of your employees feel valued, yielding benefits for not only your workforce but your business as a whole. Change is needed to help bring more women into the spotlight and showcase their abilities, which can fuel a healthy workplace and long-term economic growth. Try our DEI training for free, including our course on gender equality, to start learning more about how you can improve gender diversity across your workplace.