Global Business Survey Report

What This Survey is About

“Women leaders in Business? I guess so. I mean, sure.”

Not exactly a clarion call to the ramparts. But a fair reflection of the level of enthusiasm for gender diversity in business leadership that we found in this, our latest, global business survey.

Cornerstone International Group’s 10th annual survey zeroes in on the subject of women leaders in business. This seems to be coming back onto the front burners this year. Not, unfortunately, in a good way but in the form of recent studies suggesting the momentum behind the movement was slowing.

And that’s exactly what we found.



Cornerstone International Group is an organisation of Executive Search and Leadership Development experts with members in 66 locations.

Since 2008, we have surveyed our business clients in 36 countries on their challenges and expectations. The report is timely: a brief questionnaire is limited to two issues, the economy and a feature subject which this year was the status of women leaders
in business.

The composition of respondents is given at the end in the section NATURE OF THE SURVEY.

Where are the women leaders?

For the past few years, reporting on the issue of gender diversity has been guardedly optimistic. Women have been winning prominent positions in major international companies. For the first time, more than half of 4,000 corporations worldwide reported boards with 10 percent or more female members, according to an October report by Reuters.

Recently the air seems to be going out of the balloon. We celebrated Women’s Day last March with news that the increase of senior roles held by women globally1 has been only 3 percentage points since 2004. It has taken over a decade to move the needle from 19% to 22%.


This survey suggests a one-word answer: indifference. Or, more strategically, a lack of organisational commitment. The infrastructure hasn’t changed. University graduates are still 60% women; governments and concerned groups have taken action, including introducing quotas.

But the essential commitment in the workplace seems to be missing.


Only 21% of respondents to our survey viewed gender diversity as a corporate priority. A staggering 45% felt it was incidental to business performance.


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Only 15% of firms consider the issue sufficiently important to be in their mission statement. Less than 35% include diversity in their values statement.

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Over 80% of respondents felt that women leaders are essential in order to achieve an organisation’s optimum performance. This echoes previous reports including a Harvard Business Review study of 7,800 leaders which rated women more effective in 12 of 16 core leadership competencies.


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Although mandatory quotas in some European countries have closed the gap, they are not popular. Less than 8% of survey respondents have a quota system in place and only 15% look favorably on the option.

Yet the survey exposes a weakness in the lack of effort taken to attract women to the workplace. Some 17% of firms have a formal policy to find, recruit and train high-value women employees who would conceivably populate a leadership pipeline.

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This could relate to another response. Many participants feel the challenge of recruiting qualified women is significantly more difficult. Over 26% feel it is harder to find a qualified woman for a position and 4% find it is harder to close the deal.


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Despite the negatives turned up by the survey, 83% of the respondents had women occupying one or more of the C-level roles, namely CEO, COO, CFO, CIO, CMO. This is a small increase from 80% in 2015. In senior executive ranks, the leadership positions most occupied by women are in Human Resources (62%), Finance (29%) and Sales (22%).

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Variance by region

The survey was completed by respondents in the four major geographic regions. The following charts illustrate the differences in attitude evident between regions.

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Our survey is aimed at illuminating business and management trends as they are happening. As a result, these reports supply a macro view for issues that require more detailed investigation.

It is evident that the movement to balance out male and female business leaders has lost momentum in recent years. The objective remains but the real results are below expectations – a classic “rubber meets the road” drop-off.

Finally, the underlying logic in favour of more women as business leaders hasn’t changed: as more and more educated and empowered women enter the workforce, not finding a place for them is like competing with one hand behind your back.

“If an economy is only using half its most talented people,” says Grant Thornton’s Francesca Lagerberg, “then it immediately cuts its growth potential.”