Women Make up Only 10.9 % of Senior Leaders in World’s Top 500 Companies, Only 4% in Asia Pacific

March 14, 20161:34 pm617 views

Companies that are recognised with “most admired” reputation status by their industry peers have a higher proportion of female leaders, albeit well below gender parity. These findings are according to the results of the Gender Forward Pioneer (GFP) Index 2016 released by leading global communications and engagement firm Weber Shandwick.

Yet the index also shows that only 10.9 percent of the senior executives of the world’s 500 largest companies, by revenue, are women. Of those companies, not one has an equal representation of men and women on their senior management teams, and nearly four in 10 companies (37.6 percent) have an all-male senior leadership team.

“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, 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.”

The GFP Index measures the percentage of women in senior management positions at Fortune Global 500 companies. Weber Shandwick audited these companies, identifying their top executives and their genders. In total, this amounted to an evaluation of more than 8,600 executives representing 36 countries.

The 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 (EIU) in 2015. The survey of senior executives across 55 countries in North America, EMEA (Europe, the Middle East, Africa), APAC (Asia Pacific) and Latin America identified weak corporate commitment to achieving gender equality at the top while senior women are simultaneously experiencing “gender pipeline fatigue.”

The World’s Most Gender Forward Companies

Although no companies worldwide are at gender parity in their leadership ranks, some industries perform better than others, as do companies in particular markets.

  • The top industry for women in senior management is general merchandisers, with an index of 33 percent (vs. the cross-industry average of 10.9 percent).
  • Five industries have no women on their senior management teams: Diversified Wholesalers, Food and Grocery Wholesalers, Shipping, Temporary Help and Textiles.
  • North America has the highest proportion of women in senior management. Nearly two in 10 (19 percent) of senior executives in North America are women.
  • Sweden is the individual market with the highest proportion of women in senior management, followed closely by Turkey (27 percent and 26 percent, respectively).
  • In total, only 13 of the Global Fortune 500 companies have a female CEO.

Gender Inclusion Drives Company Reputation and the Bottom Line

Analysis of the reputational standing among the world’s leading revenue-producing companies worldwide shows a correlation between reputation and the proportion of women in senior level positions.

Using the Fortune World’s Most Admired rankings as a guide, it was determined that most admired companies (those with the best reputations in their respective industries) have twice the percentage of women in senior management as contender companies, or those with weaker reputations in their industries (17 percent vs. 8 percent, respectively).

Additionally, according to executives in Gender Equality in the Executive Ranks: A Paradox — The Journey to 2030, who actively support gender parity initiatives at their companies, there are two factors that directly point to women’s contributions to the bottom-line success of organisations: “Diverse perspectives lead to better financial performance,” cited by 38 percent, and “women make good leaders,” identified by 35 percent.

With a strong belief that gender equality is rapidly becoming a new driver of company reputation, Leslie Gaines-Ross, Chief Reputation Strategist at Weber Shandwick says, “Let’s get real. The media continues to be highly influential and journalists pay rapt attentions 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.”

In fact, four in 10 C-Level executives (39 percent) report that their companies actively share such information to enhance their internal culture and public perception.

Firm Formalises Women Leaders Engagement Offering 

After nearly a decade of research on the gender implications of leadership and client assignments with female leaders of global companies, we have amassed unique insights and expertise in helping companies raise visibility for their top female executives.

“Today, as part of our growing Global Corporate practice offering, Weber Shandwick formalised its Women Leaders Engagement offering to focus specifically on advising accomplished C-suite executives and aspiring female leaders on enhancing their profiles – both externally and internally – in order to bolster company reputation and advance the pipeline of top female talent within their organisations,” said Micho Spring, Chair, Global Corporate Practice.


“Gender parity is now a pillar of our global dialogue – there’s not a major business conference or C-level agenda that doesn’t touch on the issue in some way. Women leaders have never had more opportunities for their ideas to be heard on the issues important to their industries, companies and brands,” said Carol Ballock, executive vice president and head of Weber Shandwick’s Executive Equity & Engagement specialty practice.

“By building their public profiles, women leaders help build their company reputations and inspire the next generation of young women to want to lead and rise to the top. Our Corporate practice’s commitment to helping women leaders have greater parity and influence on the global dialogue in a visible way has been ongoing. We’re committed to getting more women on these top agendas and out in the world with their points of view.”


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