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Press Release

Covid’s unforeseen impact on gender diversity

More mid-market businesses appointing women in senior management, but few play the role of CEO or Managing Director

8 March 2022 – As the war for talent rages on, more than seven in 10 businesses in Singapore are now working to create a more inclusive environment to attract and retain female talent according to Grant Thornton’s Women in Business research. The research surveys senior leaders from 5,000 mid-market businesses across 29 economies, with more than 100 respondents from Singapore.

In the early days of the pandemic, few could have predicted the lasting effect Covid-19 would have on established ways of working. Now, with much of the world stabilising, and recognition from businesses that change was needed, the march toward more inclusive working practices to attract and retain a more diverse talent pool continues unabated.

Fostering the right environment

Nearly 52% of mid-market leaders in Singapore expecting a skill shortage to be a major constraint to their businesses in the year ahead and one in three have indicated that keeping employees engaged was one of their main challenges during the pandemic.

Supporting this, Grant Thornton’s research shows that in response, almost all Singapore respondents (98%) are taking action to foster staff engagement and create an inclusive culture.

The top three actions taken for employee engagement and inclusion were promoting work-life balance and flexibility for employees (58%), paying careful attention to employee’s individual working styles and adapting approaches (54%) and creating an environment where everyone can speak up with ideas and questions (51%).

David_circle border.pngDavid Sandison, Practice Leader at Grant Thornton Singapore says: “The war for talent and the great resignation are showing no signs of slowing down, and employees have high expectations and the upper hand in negotiations in a way not seen before.

“What we need to do is to acknowledge that each individual has their own hurdles to overcome. While we have come a long way in the gender equality journey, society still harbours expectations of women to play certain roles or to have certain characteristics which may be counter to career advancement.

“To support people, especially women, leaders need to understand what their people need and create a virtuous circle – leaders foster an open culture where people feel comfortable raising questions and bringing up their needs, leaders listen and take action, and people are better able to thrive in the environment.”

As these new ways of working become the norm for many organisations, 71 per cent of Singapore respondents expect that the impact of COVID-19 will continue to benefit women’s career trajectories long-term – just two percentage points shy of the global average.

Women in senior leadership

This could be an indication that a step change is on the horizon but in the meantime, the number of women in senior management positions in Singapore continues its glacial progress. The three-year moving average remains at 32 per cent in 2022 just one point higher than the global average of 31 per cent.

While any progress is positive in light of Covid-19, this three-year moving average has grown by only five percentage points over the past ten years, showing that progress is being made, but at a sluggish rate when measured against many best-practise diversity metrics.

Kim Schmidt, global leader at Grant Thornton International Ltd. says: “Everything gained can be easily lost when we’re talking about progress that is this gradual. As always, there is much more that some businesses could be doing to ensure that we not only maintain this growth but accelerate it. Positive market driven influences are all well and good, but without a consistent and structured approach to gender balance and diversity overall, we could see progress halted or even reversed. Now is not the time to get complacent.”

Based on a three-year moving average1, the proportion of mid-market businesses with at least one woman in senior management has gone up to 92 per cent, up from 90 per cent. The most common leadership roles that women hold are Human Resources Director and Chief Finance Officer (CFO), coming in at 49 per cent and 43 per cent respectively.

However, the proportion of mid-market businesses in Singapore with female Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) and Managing Directors (MDs) remains at a mere 11 per cent. This figure shows Singapore clearly lagging in contrast to the rest of the world. Globally, 24 per cent of mid-market businesses have female CEOs or MDs, and Southeast Asia stands almost three times higher at 32 per cent.

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Sze Min Yu, Assurance Partner at Grant Thornton Singapore says: “While the proportion of female CEOs remains low, I believe that the overall increase in the number of women in senior management indicates that Singapore is heading in the right direction. As more women move into senior management, there is a wider pool of female candidates with the right qualifications to assume the roles of CEO or MD.”

“But we cannot just look at the top end of the scale. To sustain this trajectory effectively, we must strengthen the pipeline of female talent and now is an opportune time to do it. The pandemic has fundamentally changed the way work is done. Seveny-seven per cent of respondents are using new ways of working to create a more inclusive environment for female talent.

“The pandemic has given us an opportunity to review what ‘business-as-usual’ should look like and implement ways of working that support and develop female talent across every level of the organisation.”


The Women in Business report can be found at


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Notes to editors

  1. The three-year moving averages are simple averages of the current year and the last two years results. Using moving averages helps to remove volatility and better shows the underlying trend.


About Grant Thornton Singapore

Grant Thornton Singapore is a professional services firm that is part of one of the world's leading networks providing assurance, tax and advisory services.

The Grant Thornton network is different kind of network, ready to meet the very different demands of today’s business. The network comprises 62,000 passionate people in member firms in 130 countries, with one common goal — to help organisations realise their ambitions in any environment.

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