Press release

2021 Women in Business report

Simonetta La Grutta
WIB banner image
Women holding leadership positions in Mid-Market companies exceeded the 30% tipping point despite the global pandemic

Milan, 5 March 2020 – According to the annual Women in Business* report, edited by Grant Thornton international consultancy network, in 2021 women hold 31% of senior management positions, increasing by 2 percentage points compared to the previous year, despite Covid-19 has affected and slowed down economies all over the world.

The passing of the 30% tipping point is considered as a historical and important goal, since this tipping point is indicated in the Report as the minimum figure necessary to change decision-making processes in companies. All macro-areas at a lobal level, except for the APAC area (28%) exceeded such 30% tipping point.

From a geographical perspective, Africa registered the highest figure, with 39% of businesses in which women hold leading positions, while from an industry perspective, healthcare, education and social services, and services to citizens are the winning industries, registering 39%, while the last places in the ranking are held by the industrial and oil&gas sectors, where only 26% of women hold leadership positions.

Another encouraging datum that arises from the Report is the kind of roles that female leadership is holding. Compared to previous year, the Grant Thornton research registered an increase in the number of female CEOs (+6%, now at 26%), of female CFOs (+6%, now at 36%), and of female COOs (+4%, now at 22%), while the percentage of women holding more traditional senior roles slightly decreased to 38% (-2% compared to previous year), showing a falling trend for two years.

At a global level, more than two thirds of respondent businesses (69%) expect that the new working approach generated by Covid-19 (with particular reference to remote working) could positively impact the long-term career of women. Although the presence of women in leadership positions increased, there are still uncertainties on the impact of the pandemic on women, particularly on working mothers.

Data of the United Nations show that before Covid-19, women took on unremunerated household activities three times as much compared to men and the main current indicators suggest that Covid-19 is increasing even more this disparity, besides adding further responsibilities, such as childcare, home schooling in lockdown, etc.

An encouraging datum is represented by 92% of businesses, which – at a global level – state that they are implementing measures to ensure the involvement and inclusion of their employees during the negative pandemic period and, with the normalizaition of remote working, employers are becoming increasingly more flexible with regard to how, where and when their resources can perform their working activities.

As concerns the situation in Italy, CEO roles held by women decreased to 18% in 2021, compared to 23% in 2020, thus going below the Eurozone average of 21% and the average global level of 26%.

From a more general perspective, in Italy, women holding leadership positions are today 29% (+1% compared to 2020). Despite the plus sign, Italy remains behind the lines among the 30 analysed global economies. At the same time, the number of companies without any female presence in their senior management is also increasing (+2%) and is currently amounting to 23%.

la grutta cerchio_(1).pngSimonetta La Grutta, Partner, Head of VAT and Head of People Hub at Bernoni Grant Thornton comments: “The complexities that characterized 2020 and that are persisting in 2021 inevitably impact the slow emerging of women’s skills in our country.

Although the extended emergency recourse to remote working has led to a sharing of household responsibilities and, subsequently, to a forced reduction in the gap existing in work/life balance between men and women, the contraction of the economy has in fact drastically decreased the actual career development opportunities. This is in net contrast with the real needs of businesses and organizations in general. Dealing with and managing crisis scenarios requires involving the best resources, as well as those skills and responsiveness that only fully inclusive decision-making structures can ensure.

According to the Grant Thornton report, it is important to keep incentivizing concrete actions aimed at eliminating gender diversity and creatin the right conditions to allow women to grow in leadership positions, in a dynamic and competitive working environment. This is, in fact, an important change for any business, as it encourages different ways of thinking and shows new growtn opportunities: an essential approach in a rapidly evolving global economic context.


*The “Women in Business” report is part of the Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR), a mid-market business survey launched in 1992, which provides insights on the opinions and expectations of more than 10,000 business leaders in 30 countries all over the world. The findings in this Report were derived from online and telephone interviews and surveys conducted between October and December 2020 with chief executive officers, chief financial officers, chairs, and other senior decision-makers from all industry sectors.