Female leaders see the pandemic as a potential equalizer for gender equality, but significant progress still needed to achieve parity on boards and management teams: KPMG

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  • 41 percent believe that progress made on diversity and inclusion won’t slow post pandemic.
  • 58 percent of respondents remain confident or very confident about their companies’ three-year growth prospects.
Jeyapriya Partiban, Advisory Partner at KPMG in Bahrain

Global female leaders see several possible silver linings in the COVID-19 crisis: see the pandemic as a potential equalizer for a more inclusive workforce, cite making a positive impact on the world as their top motivator and are embracing digital like never before. The global study by KPMG reveals that while four in ten believe gains made on diversity and inclusion aren’t likely to slow down, 92 percent say business is a long way from the goal of achieving truly diverse boards and management teams.

“Talent and Technology are emerging as two critical success factors for any business during this crisis. In the current environment, talent risk is a top priority for business leaders and owners. Employee well-being has also been a critical area of focus across the Kingdom of Bahrain for public and private sector organizations alike. “said Jeyapriya Partiban, Advisory Partner at KPMG in Bahrain. “Similarly, organizations have accelerated their investment in digital transformation and digitization over the last 12 months, thereby changing the profile and perception on certain roles, the skills they require and any preconceived image the nature of work may have had. This is relevant in specific cultures and professions where women have traditionally faced challenges in establishing a healthy work-life balance. The increasing flexibility that employers are adopting towards remote working will help create conducive work opportunities for women in the Kingdom of Bahrain, and across borders. This is indeed the time to choose to challenge any stereotypes that may have existed within the marketplace and leverage the pandemic as a potential equalizer for gender equality.”

Making a positive impact 

Gender inequality and climate change were the top two issues female leaders named as areas they feel free pressure from their stakeholders to act on:

  • 42 percent say sustainability activities to reduce climate change will be even more important for strategic decisions post COVID-19.
  • 58 percent say they want to lock in sustainability and climate change gains made as a result of the crisis, while 48 percent say their response to the pandemic has caused their focus to shift toward the ‘S’ in ESG.
  • 42 percent believe that measures their company has taken recently to fight discrimination and racism have been powerful.

Embracing disruption

A majority (80 percent) of female leaders have seen the digital transformation of their businesses accelerating during the pandemic. The biggest advancements have been in the digital transformation of operations, where 30 percent say that progress has put them years ahead of where they would have otherwise expected to be today. However, nine in ten (92 percent) of respondents agree that their company has room to improve innovation processes and execution.


Looking to grow their companies’ prospects, despite the odds

More than half (58 percent) of respondents remain confident or very confident about their companies’ growth prospects over the next 3 years. Female leaders were less bullish about the global economy, however, with 46 percent expecting negative growth rates and just 29 percent saying they are confident or very confident about growth.

Evolving definition of the working world

From the perspective of female leaders, the most important change to come from the crisis is the increased use of digital communication and collaboration tools. In fact, more than 97 percent of respondents say they want to contribute to this digital development. Additionally, 58 percent of the female managers believe that their personal communication with employees has improved during the crisis.

Half of the respondents believe that the talent pool has gotten bigger due to the flexibility that remote working can offer. Indeed, 62 percent of the Global Female Leaders agree that remote working has caused their company to make significant changes to policy. 

When asked which personal strengths they felt were necessary to overcome the COVID-19 crisis, female leaders named the following top three: 

  • being visionary and innovative is top of the list (44 percent), 
  • acting with a great degree of flexibility and agility (43 percent) and
  • being a team player (42 percent).

“While it’s true that the crisis is having a disproportional effect on women, it also appears that the pandemic may prove to be a catalyst for gender equality over the mid to long term,” said Angelika Huber-Strasser, Head of Corporates, KPMG in Germany. “According to our respondents, the crisis may ultimately create new opportunities for women as a result of improved digital communication, advances in technology and changes in stakeholder expectations.”

About KPMG’s Global Female Leaders Outlook:

The survey covers 675 female leaders from 52 countries and territories and was conducted between September and October 15, 2020. More than half (57 percent) of the respondents come from companies that have more than US $500M in annual revenue. NOTE: Some figures may not add up to 100 percent due to rounding.

About KPMG:

KPMG is a global organization of independent professional services firms providing Audit, Tax and Advisory services. We operate in 146 countries and territories and in FY20 had close to 227,000 people working in member firms around the world. 

Each KPMG firm is a legally distinct and separate entity and describes itself as such. KPMG International Limited is a private English company limited by guarantee. KPMG International Limited and its related entities do not provide services to clients.