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Women now account for 25% of senior management roles globally, study finds

Women now hold one in four senior roles at companies around the world with Eastern Europe particularly standing out for efforts to enhance gender diversity, according to a global study by professional services firm Grant Thornton.

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Women held 25 percent of senior management roles in 2017 globally, up one percentage point from 2016, Grant Thornton said in a report issued in conjunction with International Women's Day.

Eastern Europe fared well, with 38 percent of senior roles held by women and only 9 percent of businesses lacking women in senior roles. Grant Thornton said the region owed some of its strong performances to the "legacy of communist principles which have placed women as equals for generations."

Russia, was the only country in which every business surveyed had a woman on its senior leadership team, according to the report.

The findings for 2017 in the report were based on interviews done between July and December 2016. But experts said more needs to be done to level the playing field for women at all levels of the corporate ladder.

The report noted that the percentage of companies that had no female participation at senior level globally rose by a percentage point in 2017 to 34 percent. Developed Asia Pacific had a staggering 54 percent of business that had no women in senior roles, compared to only 13 percent of companies that did.

In the U.S., the scenario remained unchanged from a year earlier — 23 percent of senior roles were held by women and 31 percent of businesses had no women in senior positions.

According to the report, geopolitical and macroeconomic uncertainties were pushing diversity down the list of priorities for companies. "Leaders are concerned with reducing costs and retaining talent, relegating diversity to a nice-to-have rather than a must-have," according to the authors of the report.

Gender diversity has come under fresh spotlight following recent allegations of sexual harassment and gender bias against ride-hailing company Uber by a former employee.

Grace Cheong, vice president of HR for Asia Pacific and Japan at U.S.-based tech company F5 Networks, told CNBC's "Street Signs" on Wednesday that despite news of gender discrimination in certain areas, "great strides" had been made in raising awareness, especially on social media.

Diversity, Cheong said, underpinned ideas that were different as well as opened new avenues for business. "The digital economy has no respect of gender, it is an open marketplace," she said.

But for many female employees, especially in the technology sector, advancing to a senior role can be a challenge as the industry tends to be male-dominated, according to industry executives.

The impetus is on women to advocate for themselves, said Sophie Guerin, diversity and inclusion lead for Asia Pacific and Japan at Dell.

"But we recognize particularly in the technology industry, where men continue to remain in majority of leadership positions, it's really about men needing to play a critical role in advocating for women as well," Guerin told CNBC in a recent interview.

Like many tech companies, Dell has undertaken initiatives to inject more diversity into its company culture, including training its executives to understand unconscious biases that go beyond gender and look at disability, sexual orientation, different ways of thinking, family background and socio-economic status.

Sara Margulis, founder and CEO of HoneyFund, a wedding registry site where couples can register for honeymoon experiences as a wedding gift, thinks it's time for women already in leadership roles to advocate further gender parity.

"This is the time for women that are in those leadership roles to rise up and demand policy change," she told CNBC's "The Rundown" on Wednesday.

Grant Thornton, in its report, also recommended steps to have more diversity in leadership roles, such as implementing organization-wide changes, creating conducive environments, and sponsoring more women to climb the corporate ladder instead of only offering mentoring.

Recently, President Donald Trump signed into law two measures aimed at promoting women at the workplace. First, the INSPIRE Women Act that encourages NASA to hire women to STEM roles and the Promoting Women In Entrepreneurship Act designed to support female inventors.

Margulis said more needs to be done regarding the pay gap for men and women in similar roles, policies on maternity leave and affordable childcare for working mothers. But, she said, government policies alone were not enough and that companies had to also amend their practices to make them more conducive for women.

"As we see corporations in societies around the world holding more power, we also need to see them rising up and taking more responsibility for the policies that will really make change for women when it comes equality in the workplace," she said.