Women still not well represented in management
Only one in five senior managers around the world are women, reports Maria Slade.
The glass ceiling is a reality, and there are still people who believe a woman has no place in the boardroom, a top female accountant says.
New Zealander April Mackenzie is the most senior woman in Grant Thornton International, the umbrella organisation for the global accounting firm.
The New York-based executive is at the forefront of a worldwide initiative by the firm to get more females at its upper echelons.
The Grant Thornton Women's International Leadership Link was officially launched last month to share training, knowledge and programmes across the firm's network with the aim of creating a more promotion-friendly environment for women.
Grant Thornton's International Business Report for 2012 says only one in five senior managers around the world are women, a figure that is little changed since 2004.
Mackenzie says the firm itself "holds its own" in terms of senior women in comparison with its industry, but "one would not hold up the accounting industry as the poster child".
In New Zealand 24 per cent of Grant Thornton senior managers are women.
"It's about making sure we walk the talk, really."
So far 125 employees, both male and female, from 39 countries have joined Leadership Link. The idea is to help member firms put in place initiatives that ensure they think about the skills that all staff need for career and business development in gender-neutral terms, she said.
For example, too much business was still done on the golf course, and women who were assertive and decisive were perceived as aggressive and bossy.
Those women who were in senior roles also tended to be clustered in human resources and finance.
Despite studies showing companies with women on their boards and management teams did better, the wider business community was still not embracing the issue as a serious business topic, Mackenzie said.
Initiatives such as the NZX's incoming rule change requiring listed companies to report on how many women they have at the top were a good place to start.
"I'm not a champion of the likes of quotas locked into the laws or anything like that, but you know we have to do something. If you don't see change over a reasonably short period . . . then we may need to be more proactive."
A whole of environment approach was needed, including affirmative action, practical support and attitudinal change, MacKenzie said.
"Is the glass ceiling real? Yes. Do you have to put up with ‘inappropriate' comments, do I meet people who forget to give me my hand back? They are real."
Women brought unique perspectives and ideas to the table, she said. "I don't get sucked into the ‘group think', because you simply don't think like that."
Russia has the highest proportion of women in senior management at 46 per cent.
One reason for this was the promotion of women to demonstrate equal opportunity in the former Soviet Union, the report said.
Countries such as Botswana and Thailand where people tended to live near extended family providing built-in childcare also had a higher number of female executives.