SA IS falling behind in gender representation in top management, as the number of roles held by women is dropping, according to a report released on International Woman’s day by Grant Thornton.

The report, released on Tuesday, shows that SA experienced a decline to 23% of senior roles held by women, while 39% of businesses still do not have women representation in senior management roles — the lowest figures achieved to date.

The research shows that the percentage of South African women in leadership positions in business is down from last year’s 27% to a below-average 26%.

Another study commissioned in 2015 by the Businesswomen’s Association of SA last year found that women were excluded from key decision-making positions within companies and that the number of women in JSE listed companies was still lacking.

Lee-Anne Bach, director of advisory services at Grant Thornton said despite the issue having been on gender for years, SA has not been making any headway in this regard.

"We are beginning to lose an important battle that does not bode well for the advancement of women," she said.

The report surveyed 5,520 businesses in 36 countries, and in SA, 200 businesses were surveyed.

The report shows that the number of women in top management positions has increased 3% over the past five years. Eastern European countries stand out in terms of representation of women in top positions, with 35% of such roles occupied by women.

In Russia, 45% of senior roles were filled by women, with 39% in Lithuania, 37 % in Estonia and 35% in Latvia. Eastern Europe owes these strides in women business leadership to the legacy of communist business principles.

In the Association of South Eastern Asian (Asean) countries, which have benefited from a legacy of equality in education and jobs, 35% of senior jobs were held by women.

The Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia made it to the top 10 worldwide, with 39%, 37% and a 36% respectively of women in leadership positions.

Despite all efforts by governments and campaigners to increase female leadership in business, the Group of Seven countries fall below the global average of average of 24%.

Across these major economies, 22% of senior roles are held by women.

The research highlights that the largest listed companies with diverse boards in the UK, US and India are outperforming their male-only peers by $655bn annually.